There is a jazz renaissance happening, and these are the women spearheading it. Listen up, forget what you thought you knew; this is jazz right now.
It’s a Wednesday night in London’s Deptford and an impatient queue is snaking around Matchstick Piehouse, an intimate venue housed underneath a railway arch. Inside, condensation is dripping from the ceiling. What began as a saxophonist playing a solo has rapidly descended into an incredible crescendo of sounds; drums are shaking the room, a pianist is frantically hammering away at a keyboard and a spoken-word artist is musing over the nature of freedom...
This is Steam Down. Led by saxophonist Ahnansé, the collective perform at SD Weekly – a jazz night that started as a place for young musicians to connect, and has now become a highly regarded residency attended by musicians and fans alike. Steam Down – like many of the new collectives and jazz nights taking place across the UK – takes a sledgehammer to the genre’s sometimes stuffy reputation. With the help of artists like Ahnansé and nights like this, where the atmosphere is thriving and the sweat is dripping, jazz is having a renaissance.
Fueled in no small part by women and female-centred groups, the artists pushing the genre forward in 2019 are far from jazz purists. As musicians who grew up with unlimited access to a number of different genres and scenes, they are proudly injecting the sound with a fresh, contemporary edge. From Brazilian-Norwegian singer Charlotte Dos Santos to Mercury-nominated collective SEED Ensemble, get to know the acts defining the future sound of jazz.
The daughter of Trinidadian and Guyanese parents, Garcia was born in Camden and grew up playing music from the age of four. Now at the forefront of what’s been described as the British invasion, Garcia is a tenor saxophonist and composer making waves with punchy solos that are as danceable as they are powerful. Playing both as a soloist and with a community of friends, (Garcia’s band includes Femi Koleoso, drummer for Jorja Smith) she cites Charlie Parker and John Coltrane as inspirations, though her own sound, which plays on funk and electronic stylings, has a distinctly modern twist. In the last few years the 28-year-old, whose star is only set to rise, has already scooped up various accolades including Sky Arts Breakthrough Act of the Year 2018, and the Jazz FM UK Jazz Act of the Year in 2019.
This 10-piece collective includes several trumpet players and saxophonists amongst trombone and tuba players, pianists, drummers and bassists and even a guitarist, and it’s not just the instrumentation that runs wide; SEED Ensemble composer Cassie Kinoshi draws inspiration from sources both far-flung and close to home. Take Driftglass, the group’s Mercury-nominated album. The title is a reference to a collection of short stories by US writer Samuel R. Delany, while their incredibly poignant track W A K E (For Grenfell) features chanted passages from a Langston Hughes poem. Like Nubya Garcia, Kinoshi moves between various different musical outfits, including the Afrobeat band Kokoroko, and the jazz septet Nérija (more on them later), lending an eclectic mix of sounds to every project she works on.
Brazilian-Norwegian singer Charlotte Dos Santos seamlessly straddles jazz, soul and R&B, a genre-defying effect that has been praised by the likes of OutKast’s Big Boi and broadcaster Gilles Peterson. A graduate of the esteemed jazz course at Berklee college in Boston, the 29-year-old artist tours Europe this autumn. For jazz sceptics, her debut album Cleo is more of a pop/soul crossover but a perfect entry point into the new wave of jazz. Inspired by a year living in Spain studying flamenco arrangements and Spanish history, Cleo revolves around ideas of power, femininity and what it means to be a woman in the world.
With the names Cassie Kinoshi and Nubya Garcia now familiar to you, it’s time to add their energetic, female-centred collective to your playlist. When they’re not playing with their respective outfits, the pair are joined by five other prolific young artists as part of the award-winning septet Nérija. Throughout their debut album Blume, moments of other genres inflect their sound in an experimental reimagining of jazz, from the gutsy, rock-tinged moments of EU (Emotionally Unavailable) to the vibrantly cool Partner Girlfriend Lover.
When multi-instrumentalist Emma-Jean Thackray creates new work, she yo-yos from instrument to instrument, sound to sound, often occupying the headspace of a different character for each. Operating at the intersection of electronic music and jazz, she records, edits and produces her own music at home. Despite her incredibly self-sufficient way of working, Thackray has caught the attention of several tastemakers including Gilles Peterson, who now manages her. Check out her most recent EP, Ley Lines, for a perfectly accessible introduction to what jazz sounds like in 2019.
IMAGE CREDITs I ALAMY, GETTY IMAGES