Five Artists Rebooting Jazz For The 2020s
Mr Moses Boyd, London, 2019. Photograph by Mr Fabrice Bourgelle
Think of jazz and you might be inclined to picture Mr Miles Davis circa 1959, impeccably dressed in a handmade Italian suit and blowing his horn on Kind Of Blue. The album was arguably his magnum opus, one that not only ushered in a whole new era of melodically minded modal jazz, but went on to influence musicians as diverse as Pink Floyd’s Mr Richard Wright (who structured the opening chords of “Breathe” from The Dark Side Of The Moon on Kind Of Blue’s chord progressions) and Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest, who said of the record, “It’s like the Bible. You just have one in your house.”
For certain disgruntled jazz purists, the late 1950s and early 1960s was an unparalleled, golden age for the genre (alongside the 1940s bebop era pioneered by the frenetic, explosive and intricate stylings of Messrs Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk) and it died when people such as Mr Jimi Hendrix started noodling audience’s minds with their heady concoction of psychedelia, blues and rock, or when Motown proceeded to become the sound of the American youth. While the popular side of the music morphed into jazz-funk and jazz-fusion in the decades to come (let’s not talk about Kenny G), artists such as Messrs Ahmad Jamal, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett were still creating music from a distinctly jazz point of view.
The advent of hip-hop catapulted jazz back into the cultural consciousness. Q-Tip, Mr Pete Rock and J Dilla, for example, would sample old jazz records to shape their signature sounds. In recent years, Thundercat, Flying Lotus and Mr Robert Glasper have spearheaded the genre’s full-on resurgence. And in 2015, Mr Kendrick Lamar’s incendiary album To Pimp A Butterfly referenced the jazz aesthetic heavily, which in turn prompted millions of listeners around the world to explore the art form more thoroughly.
Today, jazz is more popular than it has been for decades. A new generation of musicians are injecting it with modern influences of their own and forging new global scenes and a new golden age for the music. So, to celebrate International Jazz Day 2020, here are five of the new guard who are holding it down right now.
01. Ms Poppy Ajudha
Ms Poppy Ajudha, London, 2019. Photograph by Mr Buster Grey-Jung
“My songs talk about my personal experiences, which are things that affect many young women, whether it’s to do with race, class, gender, sexuality or the constant pressure to prove your worth,” Ms Poppy Ajudha told the Evening Standard last year. She cut her teeth at southeast London jam night Steez, alongside Mr Moses Boyd and Ms Nubya Garcia. Ms Ajudha is a vocalist in the politically focused tradition of Ms Nina Simone and Solange, an anthropology and music graduate from SOAS to whom topics such as feminism and queer identity are just as vital as music. Her songs challenge ideas of how we are expected to behave (“Devil’s Juice”) and toxic masculinity (“Spilling Into You”), among other things. With a string of singles to her name, including a feature on Mr Tom Misch’s “Disco Yes”, which was included on President Barack Obama’s end-of-2018 playlist, expect a debut album to drop imminently.
02. Mr Makaya McCraven
Mr Makaya McCraven, Japan, 2018. Photograph by Mr David Marques
Mr Makaya McCraven is a Chicago-based drummer and producer who is equally at home performing intense feats of free-form jazz as he is laying down the dirtiest and thickest of grooves, both hip-hop and house. He has set himself apart via his proclivity for live performance (his albums In The Moment, Highly Rare and Universal Beings were all recorded live, with an emphasis on improvisation, before being chopped, looped and layered in the studio) and placing huge importance on community. Universal Beings is split into four parts – recorded separately in Chicago, New York, London and Los Angeles – with a different lineup in each city. “A masterpiece of dirty blues, spiritual jazz and deep yearning,” said Pitchfork of Mr McCraven’s latest album released on iconic London label XL Recordings earlier this year, a reimagining of Mr Gil Scott-Heron’s final album I’m New Here entitled We’re New Again.
03. Mr Moses Boyd
Mr Moses Boyd, London, 2020. Photograph by Mr Dan Medhurst
A southeast London native (Catford, to be specific), Mr Boyd trained as a jazz drummer and is a progenitor of the London jazz scene. He has toured with Sampha, composed original scores for the Louis Vuitton Foundation, hosted a BBC Radio 1Xtra residency, won two MOBO awards (as part of Binker and Moses) and had his collaboration with DJ Lag, “Drumming”, reimagined by Ms Beyoncé Knowles as “My Power”. While his output with Mr Binker Golding veers towards traditional free jazz, Mr Boyd’s solo work is more diverse. He works behind the boards as a producer and draws as much influence from the club-friendly sounds of grime and 2-step as from jazz. “Rye Lane Shuffle”, a raw coalescence of jazz, afrobeat and grime mixed by Four Tet and Floating Points, became an instant club anthem on release. On Dark Matter, his debut album released in February, the young musician further explores what jazz in the 21st century can be, from the dub-heavy trip-hop of “Dancing In The Dark” to the lurching, intricately layered broken beat of “Only You”.
04. Onyx Collective
Onyx Collective, New York, 2019. Photograph by Mr Takeshi Matsumi
“The names of people, the places, the street corners here are so legendary, it leaves a roadmap that we can walk through,” says Mr Isaiah Barr, saxophonist and leader of this nebulous jazz ensemble with a particularly punk ethos. With an eight(ish)-strong core membership consisting of Messrs Austin Williamson on drums, Joshua Benitez on keyboard, Jack Gulielmetti on guitar, Felix Pastorius and Spencer Murphy on electric bass and Dean Torrey and Walter Stinson on upright bass, Onyx Collective’s members are technical New York Conservatory-trained musicians first and foremost. So engrained is NYC to the group that it stealth dropped its debut LP 2nd Avenue Rundown via skate icon Supreme and recorded its next pair of EPs at shows and practice spaces across Manhattan. Hard bop, salsa and funk are all fair game – not the easiest of listening, but the vibe of the city is captured like never before.
05. Ms Emma-Jean Thackray
Ms Emma-Jean Thackray, London, 2018. Photograph by Mr Elliot Arndt
Yorkshire-born, London-based Ms Emma-Jean Thackray is a trumpeter, producer, composer, beatmaker, DJ and, recently, a record label boss. Movementt is an imprint of cult London label Warp and acts as a showcase for Ms Thackray’s music, alongside other artists orbiting the same scenes she inhabits. It’s “the coming together of the visceral, the cerebral and music that nourishes the soul”, she says of the label. Like Mr Boyd, Ms Thackray is influenced as much by the forefathers of jazz – think Mr Miles Davis and Ms Alice Coltrane – as she is the club, whether it’s the astral sounds of the LA beat scene or the sweaty euphoria of the UK rave scene. Her track “Movementt”, taken from her Rain Dance EP released this year, fuses Mr Roy Hargrove-esque trumpets with a driving, four-to-the-floor beat and even comes accompanied with a nostalgic video cut together with archive rave footage. Ah, the 1990s.