British jazz is enjoying a golden period right now, with musicians mixing the sounds of the greats with new styles and elements of dub, hip-hop, afrobeat, UK garage and grime. Theirs is an inclusive, accessible sound that highlights the influence that jazz has had on hip-hop, R&B and electronic music, and puts jazz's reputation as impenetrable, challenging music to the sword.
"Jazz is something I'm relatively new to," admits DJ Jamz Supernova, who presented a Jazz Special on her 1XTRA show last November. "I feel it’s my duty to showcase all sides of black culture, and perhaps it will inspire listeners like me, who, on the surface, think they have no ties to jazz music in its current form. But listening to the new-wave artists now, they'll know that its influence has been there the whole time."
To celebrate this exciting new era, we've put together a list of 21 essential UK jazz records released in the last decade, selected by writers, DJs and scene leaders, including Tenderlonius, Emma-Jean Thackray and Adam Moses.
Profile Clip – Henry Wu & Moses Boyd
Various Artists – We Out Here (Brownswood, 2018)
If you’re looking for an entry point into London's new jazz underground, We Out Here may be your best bet. Conceived by Gilles Peterson's Brownswood Recordings and recorded in a three-day stint at Fish Factory Studio in London in August 2017, the nine-track compilation brings together many of the scene's key players, including Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia, Joe Armon-Jones and Shabaka Hutchings.
Its take on jazz is at times faithful, while at other times it displays an openness to outside influence. Moses Boyd's The Balance layers silky electronics and cascading drum loops, a reminder of his parallel fascination for grime and hip-hop beat tapes, while Theon Cross's Brockley sees the bandleader using his tuba like an electronic producer might employ sub bass. (Louis Pattison)
Nubya Garcia – Nubya's 5ive (Jazz Re:freshed, 2017)
Nubya Garcia plays the saxophone like she's dancing, for pleasure, to her own band. Whether she's playing over something loose and funky (Lost Kingdoms), complex and hyperkinetic (Red Sun) or gently levitational (the opening of Contemplation), each note radiates with joy and a sense of multidirectional possibility. This album is one of the greatest statements yet of how the new London jazz generation can be faithful to the deep history of the music, while still making club music that works in the moment. (Joe Muggs)
Tom Misch – Beat Tape 2 (Beyond The Groove 3, 2015)
Tom Misch was my starting point, in terms of the sort of early sounds I was listening to that led me to jazz. I'm sure many purists would argue that it's not a jazz album, but that's what I love so much about the new wave. They've made it into their own thing. I think it inspired a lot of in-the-box producers and young self-taught producers to start experimenting with live sounds. Sometimes my mind and body are going at 100mph so I'll stick this on with headphones and it makes me stop and just be in the moment. (Jamz Supernova)
Yussef Kamaal – Black Focus (Brownswood, 2016)
For a lot of young listeners, Black Focus was the crossover record that finally persuaded them to listen to instrumental jazz. Yussef Kamaal was the London duo of producer/keys player Kamaal Williams – also known by his successful house music project Henry Wu – and United Vibrations drummer Yussef Dayes.
Tied together by their telepathic musical bond, Black Focus gave laid-back excursions into jazz-funk and soulful hip-hop plenty of space to breathe, lightly juxtaposing them with breakbeat and jungle rhythms inspired by the urban machinery of the big smoke. The duo broke up a year after the album's release, but they left behind a documentation of the era that could one day be hailed as a classic. (Davy Reed)
See. Hear. Now. with Yussef Kamaal
Emma-Jean Thackray – Ley Lines (The Vinyl Factory, 2018)
Originally from Yorkshire, Emma-Jean Thackray’s entry into music was through Tingley Brass Band, for whom she played principle cornet aged 13. Thackray is hardly a traditionalist, though. A student of famed British improviser Keith Tippett, today you might find her encouraging the London Symphony Orchestra to wrap their violin strings with tinfoil or dropping tuba and flugelhorn amidst rolling Afrobeat grooves.
Ley Lines finds the Red Bull Music Academy alumnus writing, composing, singing and playing every instrument from the comfort of her own South London bedsit, inspired by the example of celebrated hip-hop beatmaker Madlib. (Louis Pattison)
See. Hear. Now. with Emma-Jean Thackray
Kamaal Williams – The Return (Black Focus, 2018)
The live shows have been amazing. I think a lot of people don’t realise this, but when myself, Pete [Martin, bassist] and Kamaal Williams are on stage, we're experiencing what the people are experiencing all at the same time, because there's a lot of improvisation. And that’s the way this record was done as well.
Kamaal was just like, "This is what I’m seeing in my head. Here's a blank canvas with the outlines, right boys get your paintbrushes out and let's add some colour." We love all the greats – Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, John Scofield – but we've taken that, flipped it and made some special music. I can't even call it jazz. It's just a vibe, it's fresh. It's a London thing. (MckNasty)
Henry Wu presents Kamaal Williams and Children Of Zeus – Still Standing
Dinosaur – Together, As One (Edition, 2016)
Deerhoof, John Zorn, Django Bates, Loose Tubes and mystical Celtic folk melodies – they're all woven into these truly haunting compositions. The sophisticated interplay between the group and searching nature of the musicians – four of the most able instrumentalists and improvisors to ever come out of the UK – are so vibrantly displayed in every moment. Yet everything seems ego-less and all about serving the art. Dinosaur are clever and full of wit and Together, As One, with its strong aesthetic, ties to Miles Davis's electric period and feels as important and genre-breaking as those Miles albums turned out to be. (Emma-Jean Thackray)
United Vibrations – Galaxies Not Ghettos (12tone C.I.C, 2011)
Right there at the beginning of this new wave of London jazz, and hailing from South East London, was United Vibrations. They're the blueprint – Wayne Francis (sax), Ahmad Dayes (trombone), Kareem Dayes (bass) and Yussef Dayes (drums). Their self-released album Galaxies Not Ghettos was a precursor to the sound that is common-place now – a head-swirling mix of afrobeat, jazz fusion and funk with a punk attitude.
Known for their high-energy live shows, it wouldn't have been surprising if they'd struggled to recapture that vibe in the studio – but they did. The pulsating bass, triumphant horns, empowering chants and driving rhythms take listeners on a journey to jubilation. (Adam Moses of Jazz:refreshed)
Tenderlonious – The Shakedown ft. The 22a Archestra (22a, 2018)
22a is at the heart of London's forward-thinking jazz scene. With their hearts rooted in the world of the hard-bop greats, and their ears searching for the deepest house 12-inches, they keep your feet moving with the latest cut from Tenderlonious. Driving grooves, lush chords and melodies that flirt with disco and blues – the loose structures and jam-like feel of each tune keeps everything fresh and transports you to the studio to that very moment in time, to feel the energy and almost smell the jazz in that little room. (Emma-Jean Thackray)
A.R.E. Project – A.R.E. Project (Technicolour, 2017)
We had to stretch the definition of UK jazz to include this one, but A.R.E. Project is an intriguing experiment between Shabaka Hutchings, US-born, India-raised and London-based percussionist Sarathy Kowar and Chicago experimentalist Hieroglyphic Being – who's been known to incorporate jazz influences into his unconventional house and techno productions.
Recorded across two live sessions at London's Lightship95 studio, the Association for Research and Enlightenment Project saw Kowar lock into the groove of Hieroglyphic Being's shimmering soundscapes, while Hutchings let his soul soar via his sprawling sax. (Davy Reed)
Yazmin Lacey – Black Moon (Running Circle, 2017)
Yazmin Lacey is a Nottingham-based artist who came up through Gilles Peterson's Future Bubblers initiative. This project is so well-crafted, and it's a great introduction to her. My first thoughts were that no one sings like this anymore. I liked the fact that her vocals weren't over processed. It's an intimate record and I find myself feeling quiet and reflective while listening to it, thinking of past and current relationships. She's one of those artists that other artists really admire. (Jamz Supernova)
Collucutor – Instead (On The Corner, 2014)
This is the debut LP by the Collucutor ensemble, led by the incomparable Tamar Osborn. You can hear the record has been inspired by some of the greats – Yusef Lateef, Joe Henderson, Alice Coltrane– with deep influences from classical, Indian and African styles. There's a hypnotic mix of slow-moving woodwind, percussion and bass. In the crazy scene we're living through today, this band have to be the most slept-on and underrated. The level of musicianship is so high. (Tenderlonious)
Joe Armon-Jones – Starting Today (Brownswood, 2018)
For his first album as a band leader, pianist and Ezra Collective member Joe Armon-Jones called in a few favours from prominent names in in the London jazz scene. Moses Boyd and Nubya Garcia are part of his band, singer/guitarist Oscar Jerome makes a number of appearances on the album, and Luke Newman shows up to spit a surreal rap verse under the moniker Big Sharer. Starting Today also sees Armon-Jones sprinkle his silky keys over dub and hip-hop influenced jams. An adventurous debut shining with youthful energy. (Davy Reed)
[Ahmed] – New Jazz Imagination (Umlaut Records, 2017)
Pat Thomas's [Ahmed] is a group featuring saxophonist Seymour Wright, drummer Antonin Gerbal and bassist Joel Grip. Their 2017 debut, New Jazz Imagination, reimagines the music of Ahmed Abdul-Malik, an overlooked Arabic jazz pioneer of the 1950s. It's wonderful to hear an uncompromising avant-gardist like Wright digging into Abdul-Malik's tunes with such glee. The group's sense of groove is almost perverse, as Thomas and Gerbal lock into a demented march behind Wright's stuck-record motifs. Somehow it totally swings. (Stewart Smith)
Paper Tiger – Laptop Suntan (Wah Wah 45s, 2013)
Listening to Paper Tiger's records, at first you could be forgiven for thinking they've come out of a computer and sampler. The group, from Walsall via Leeds, are very much in the post-Flying Lotus 'beat scene' tradition of psychedelic hip-hop, and the inclusion of UK and US rap and grime voices only amplifies the sense that these are beats first.
Then you'll start to notice how the horn section is locked into the bleeps and swooshes, and that half the time you're not listening to a breakbeat cut-up, but a drummer perfectly replicating a jungle or hip-hop beat – and that's when you realise you're listening to a jazz record. (Joe Muggs)
Binker & Moses – Dem Ones (Gearbox, 2015)
The Binker & Moses album goes in hard, and kind of sums up the new attitude of London jazz – raw and honest. The personalities of both Binker Golding and Moses Boyd are unleashed onto beautiful vinyl. Binker goes from playful to spitting pure fire through the horn. Similarly, you can almost see Moses slyly smiling while licking shots on the drums.
There have been sax and drums duo albums before, but on paper this collaboration is still a tough format. No soft dancing keys, no deep rounded bass, just sax and drums. But Dem Ones pulls you in and keeps you there. They did it their own way. No compromise. (Adam Moses)
Matthew Halsall – On The Go (Gondwana Records, 2011)
Everything about Matthew Halsall's compositions, arrangements and trumpet playing is beautifully poised. So much so, in fact, that even when they're uptempo, his pieces feel crystalline. There's a wide variety here, from folk-ish modality and Latin-influenced tracks to the spiritual sounds of Don Cherry, Alice Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders. It's on his dreamy ballads, with their dreamy Bill Evans/Chet Baker drift, that Halsall's perfect poise really comes into focus. (Joe Muggs)
Shabaka Hutchings & The Ancestors – Wisdom of Elders (Brownswood, 2016)
I think Shabaka Hutchings is really amazing. He's got that whole experimental, eclectic, leftfield thing going on. It's almost psychedelic, but at the same time, it has an earthy influence as well, with an African background to it. That's dope. Hutchings brought in those South African influences with the team he worked with out there. Siyabonga Mthembu from The Brother Moves On does some of the lead vocals, and he's got this amazing depth to his voice, almost singing from a very ancestral place. So the mixture of that I think is quite amazing. (Mcknasty)
Alexander Hawkins – Unit[e] (self-released, 2017)
One of the most brilliant pianists of his generation, Alexander Hawkins has been active in numerous projects over the past decade, working with master percussionist Han Bennink and Turkish cosmonauts Konstrukt.
The 2017 double album Unit[e] saw the Oxford-based pianist wave goodbye to the septet who recorded 2014's deliciously knotty Step Wide, Step Deep, and introduce a larger group featuring London improvisers like Julie Kjaer and Alex Ward, alongside younger players like Dinosaur's Laura Jurd. The album – also featuring Shabaka Hutchings and Tom Skinner – channels everything from American free-jazz and European modernism to Chicago house. (Stewart Smith)
Sons of Kemet – Your Queen Is A Reptile (Impulse!, 2018)
Making their debut on the legendary jazz label Impulse!, Shabaka Hutchings' band Sons Of Kemet deliver an exhilarating statement bursting with rebellious energy. Standing in opposition to the British monarchy, Sons Of Kemet dedicated each song on the LP to an inspirational women of colour, including Black Panther Angela Davis, anti-apartheid activist Albertina Sisulu and Hutchings' great grandmother, Ada Eastman.
Musically, there's Hutchings' saxophone, Theon Cross's tuba and a dual drummer set-up that features a rotating cast of Tom Skinner, Seb Rochford, Eddie Hick and Moses Boyd. Between them, they harness great power, using ragga, dub, and grime to help fuel some original, hard-hitting jazz. (Davy Reed)
Melt Yourself Down – Melt Yourself Down (Leaf, 2013)
A long-running maverick voice in British jazz, saxophonist Peter Wareham rose to recognition as part of Acoustic Ladyland, an adventurous London group whose 2005 album invested jazz with the raucous energy of punk rock. Wareham also plays in Seb Rochford's Polar Bear, and the London collective F-IRE, but his most startling group is undoubtedly Melt Yourself Down.
Named after an album by no-wave saxophonistJames Chance, the project – also featuring Shabaka Hutchings, Mauritian vocalist Kushal Gaya and electronica producer Leafcutter John – is a full-tilt exploration of North African, Middle Eastern and Latin American styles that flattens cultural differences through sheer steamroller momentum. (Louis Pattison)