If you didn’t know it yet, jazz is back. It’s back on our dance floors through acts like Mercury-nominated The Comet Is Coming, whose track title ‘Slam Dunk in a Black Hole’ communicates the audacity of their galactic jazz-tronica. It is back in our bars, with swingsters Kansas Smitty’s hosting raucous hot jazz sessions at their own east London speakeasy. And it is exploding onto our newsfeeds. An instrumental track from jazz-funk group Vulfpeck recently received over a million views within a day of its release on Facebook.
The Mighty Boosh’s turtleneck sporting Howard Moon used to playfully represent the jazz anorak archetype, but fresh jazz acts are now delighting far wider audiences. There’s no better time to get involved than during the EFG London Jazz Festival. The full listings catalogue over 300 gigs, so we have picked out a highlight for each day of the festival.
Takuya Kuroda & Makaya McCraven, Jazz Cafe
Two artists whose talents have been percolating on the New York and Chicago scenes come together to demonstrate how a dialogue with hip-hop has helped reinvigorate jazz. Both musicians’ work sees traditional swing grooves mixed with slugged beats in the style of late hip-hop producer J Dilla.
Japanese born trumpeter Kuroda floats soulful trumpet lines over burbling synths, whilst drummer McCraven’s compositions have a harder edge, surging from chilled neo-soul to urgent be-bop. They are likely to drive each other to greater heights during a double bill at the recently reopened Jazz Cafe.
Friday 11 November, get tickets here.
Jacob Collier, Brooklyn Bowl
22 year old prodigy Collier is something of a cross between Zoella and Mozart. He gained an online following with dazzling arrangements of classics from Stevie Wonder to the Flintstones theme, releasing them as split screen videos that showed him playing every instrument, and singing every vocal part.
He has since taken the same approach with his own astonishingly mature compositions. Collier’s solo live shows bring the multimedia experience of his videos to the stage, using technology developed especially for him at MIT. You don’t get many chances to see an entirely new concept of performance.
Saturday 12 November, get tickets here.
Jan Gabarek Group featuring Trilok Gurtu, Royal Festival Hall
In the 1970s, Norwegian saxophonist Gabarek helped European jazz step out of America’s shadow. Centred on the German label ECM, the Europeans incorporated folk and classical influences to create a sparser yet melodious new jazz. Gabarek has not stopped innovating since. In the 1990s he lent his distinct tone to a feted collaboration with Gregorian vocal group The Hilliard Ensemble, and a long partnership with Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu has deepened the dialogue between jazz and world rhythm. Grown more playful in his older age, this Gandalf of the tenor sax can delight new audiences and aficionados alike.
Sunday 13 November, get tickets here.
SFJAZZ Collective Play Michael Jackson, Cadogan Hall
SFJAZZ (the San Francisco Jazz Collective) is an institution that, like the Lincoln Center in New York, acts as guardians of a genre that is a treasured part of America’s cultural heritage. SFJAZZ undertakes this duty with a West Coast cool, bringing together an octet of American jazzers of the highest calibre, to reinterpret the work of a great. The choice of the King of Pop shows that this won’t be a stuffy exercise. There may be more walking bass lines than moon walks, but SFJAZZ Collective IS sure to tear down the house with their hip grooves.
Monday 14 November, get tickets here.
Donny McCaslin + Skint, Rich Mix
David Bowie recognised a kindred musical spirit in saxophonist Donny McCaslin. Bowie not only invited McCaslin to feature on his final album Blackstar, but also asked him to bring his whole band to anchor the sessions. McCaslin’s music disregards accepted jazz structures, ranging from minimalist breakdowns to epic choruses. He offers a new dimension of jazz, fusing wild improvisation with electro grooves, but never forgetting to draw the listener in with catchy hooks. If you regard Bowie’s backing as akin to a divine endorsement, then you have no choice but to join McCaslin for ‘hazy cosmic jive’ at Rich Mix.
Tuesday 15 November, get tickets here.
Christian Scott + Mammal Hands, Scala
Christian Scott possesses the breathy trumpet tone associated with greats of the instrument like Miles Davis and Chet Baker. Whilst he places this timeless tone in a new context — drawing upon African rhythms and hip-hop beats — he retains the raw emotions that poured from the horns of the jazzmen of old. In the spirit of the original jazz movement, Scott's compositions catalogue the continuing struggles of African-Americans, but also celebrate black American culture today. Support from the minimalist influenced Manchester trio Mammal Hands will make this an un-missable evening of hypnotic melody.
Wednesday 16 November, get tickets here.
Julian Lage, Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho
Lage was a jazz guitar prodigy who played the 2000 Grammys, aged just 13. Fortunately for him, the life of a jazz prodigy is not as glamorous or destructive as that of a pop counterpart. Rather than purchasing a pet monkey, Lage has matured into an understated master of the jazz idiom. His playing has a close connection to the gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt, but displays a modern edge. Lage’s pieces are smooth on the surface and richly textured beneath, so the intimate Pizza Express Jazz Club is the perfect place to soak up the vibes.
Thursday 17 November, get tickets here.
London Sinfonietta & Marius Neset, LSO St Luke’s
Norwegian Marius Neset is such a prodigiously talented tenor saxophonist that he could easily have had a stellar career as an instrumental soloist. But he also possesses a knack for compositions of neuron-frying polyphony. His pieces engage in the compositional equivalent of patting your head whilst rubbing your belly, except in Neset’s case he does that whilst roller blading at rush hour, against the traffic. Given a symphonic canvas to work with, in collaboration with London’s premiere chamber orchestra, the results are likely to be astounding.
Friday 18 November, get tickets here.
Kansas Smitty’s House Band, Shoreditch Town Hall
Kansas Smitty’s harness the energy that saw jazz sweep the dancehalls of decades past. Their New Orleans style grooves have chimed with younger audiences throughout London, creating such a demand that they opened their own bar in Broadway Market. With the addition of off-shoot group Smitty’s Big Four, Kansas Smitty’s are fast becoming as much a brand as a band, but it’s encouraging to see an entrepreneurial spirit applied to the famously un-commercial genre. Expect sharp suits, sultry horns, and raucous bourbon fuelled solos as the eight piece House Band swing Shoreditch. Bring your dancing shoes.
Saturday 19 November, get tickets here.
Bill Laurance Project, Shoreditch Town Hall
The U.S group Snarky Puppy, for whom Londoner Laurance plays keyboards, have arguably done more than anyone to reintroduce the younger generation to jazz. There’s less of their kinetic funk in Laurance’s more cerebral compositions, but after a spell binding show at the Union Chapel last May, Laurance has proved he has the power to move audiences.
Laurance’s sublime fusion of jazz, modern classical and electronica highlights many of the ingredients that are drawing wider audiences to jazz, and his Shoreditch Town Hall show will surely act as a fitting finale to a festival that celebrates the genre in all its varied forms.
Sunday 20 November, get tickets here.