With the effects of Covid still lingering in terms of my exposure to live gigs my listening this year has been prompted by three influences. Firstly, my subscriptions to three jazz magazines, in order of publishing longevity,
- the U.S. Jazz bible Downbeat which first appeared almost 90 years ago
- France’s Jazz Magazine, which this year celebrates its 70th anniversary
- The UK’s Jazzwise a more recent arrival, a serious and distinctive publication
At some point I plan to blog on the interesting cultural differences between these three magazines. What they reflect about how jazz is viewed within the contemporary musical and political cultures of the U.S., France and the U.K. For now, they are referenced for their profiles and album and gig reviews of new, established and often forgotten jazz artists
Another important influence is the monthly jazz club I participate in with six friends. Each month one of us presents up to 60 minutes of curated music often themed and always spanning the widest reaches of the music. Many of the tracks in the accompanying playlist derive from this source. Interestingly because our age range spans at least two generations I get exposure to artists that I hadn’t previously heard of or genres that have an interesting relationship to jazz but are again new to me. Had my friend Anil not played Ask Me Now at a recent session, jazz snob that I sometimes am, it would never have occurred to me to give Pee Wee Russell a listen. How wrong could I be, as you will hear on the playlist.
And the third source is of course music that I have been listening to, artists that I have been aware of for decades who have popped back into my consciousness this year or have never left it. So it is no accident that my playlist concludes with two artists, both in their different ways landmarks in the story of jazz; Duke Ellington’s late career Far East Suite and the great saxophonist Joe Lovano’s homage to Frank Sinatra.
Reflecting on the playlist, which is a polyglot mix-tape of my recent listening I particularly want to reference the extraordinarily vibrant contemporary jazz scene in the U.K. I am very conscious that my own writing has so far focused on the mothership of the music; jazz played by Americans. Future posts will seek to rectify this imbalance. In the meantime, here are pen portraits of some distinctive U.K. jazz voices from the very young and not-so-young demographics.
Emma Smith – Voice
The title of Emma Smith’s latest/second album, Meshuga Baby naturally caught my attention. Turns out the title has no bearing on the content a fascinating mixture of show tunes, blues and originals. Smith inhabits the cross over world of show biz and jazz, has a finely tuned voice and works beautifully with a class trio. Her voice has a much deeper vibe than I was expecting. Jamie Safir provides some very tasteful piano accompaniment.
Deschanel Gordon – Piano
I was overjoyed when Deschanel Gordon won the BBC jazz musician of the year in 2020. I had heard about Deschanel’s precocious talent through friends. I had met him a couple of times and was aware of his journey through Hackney schools and on to conservatoire in London. I caught a couple of his trio live streams from Ronnie Scott’s during lockdown. For a pianist so young he has an encyclopaedic grasp of jazz tradition, is supremely accomplished both as an accompanist and soloist. His playing has a distinctive lightness of touch. Definitely a rising star.
My playlist features Deschanel on a just-released album by the aptly named Tomorrow’s New Quartet entitled All Together Now! from Ubuntu records, where he is joined by Flo Moore on bass, Helen Kaye on sax and Rod Oughton on drums. I am in no doubt that Deschanel has a great career in jazz ahead of him. As you can see from the band link, this is a very young highly gifted group of jazz musicians.
Trish Clowes – Saxophone
Saxophonist Trish Clowes is from an earlier generation, born in 1984 and a product of Birmingham college of music in the early noughties where she gained a PhD in Music. Known as much for her compositional talent as much as her playing she is currently touring with the quartet comprising Clowes, Chris Montague, Ross Stanley and James Maddren.
Downbeat recently described Trish Clowes as “an improviser to be reckoned with”.
Arun Ghosh – Clarinet, Multi-Instrumentalist
Arun Ghosh has been a distinctive voice on the UK’s jazz scene over the last 25 years. He almost single-handedly re-introduced the clarinet as a jazz vehicle, following decades of subservience to the saxophone. Now very much seen as a multi-instrumentalist. Ghosh’s oeuvre has drawn on his south Asian background in ways that we haven’t heard since Joe Hariottt’s Indo-Jazz fusions in the mid-60’s. The playlist tracks are all drawn from his latest album, Seclused in Light, composed and recorded during lockdown. Ghosh provides all the instrumentation. It is a shimmering, meditative exploration that demands repeated listening.