I have to admit the annual Mercury Prize for the best contemporary album in UK and Ireland normally passes me by. It’s a huge event in the UK’s musical calendar and past winners have both secured and launched the careers of both established and up-and-coming names on the popular scene right across the spectrum from grime to hip hop to electro folk and beyond. No jazz band has ever come close to winning or making the long list.
The Ezra Collective
I was aware that The Ezra Collective had made it to the final and returning from 10 days away in Cornwall I tuned in to the end of the awards ceremony just in time to see Ezra Collective bucking all the speculation and claiming the prize. I was so pleased, mainly for Ezra who have fused together an incredible amalgam of contemporary musical influences -reggae, ska, Afro-future Latin, hip-hop, while always reflecting their core affiliations to jazz. In its very widest sense. The audience’s response to the announcement seemed to be genuinely ecstatic.
Here’s the tune that Ezra Collective played on the night to claim their prize. This is a world as far away as you can imagine from the traditional vibe of the basement jazz club. Mind you some of my favourite jazz clubs inhabit basements.
In claiming the prize, the band’s drummer Femi Koleoso said the group “represents something very special because we met in a youth club”.
“This moment that we’re celebrating right here is testament to good, special people putting time and effort into young people to play music,”
“This is not just a result for Ezra Collective, or for UK jazz, but this is a special moment for every single organisation across the country, ploughing efforts and time into young people playing music.”
What brought me close to tears was when Femi said,
“If a jazz band winning the Mercury Prize doesn’t make you believe in God, I don’t know what will.”
These heartfelt quotes have important resonances.
- To the unique work of Gary Crosby and Janine Irons founder directors of the Tomorrow’s Warriors stable in developing the prodigious talents of so many young and predominantly black musicians.
- To the new and young audiences (at least to jazz) that bands like Ezra have been attracting and building.
- To the remarkable generation of musicians who have formed part of the same wave as Ezra-Shabaka Hutchings, Sheila Maurice-Grey, Nubya Garcia (who I’ll be seeing leading a remake of the classic Eddie Sauter/Stan Getz masterwork Focus at the Royal Festival Hall next week), Theon Cross, Moses Boyd Deschanel Gordon and many more.
Shabaka Hutchings’s Sons of Kemet’s storming set at Glastonbury is a perfect example of the new audiences and venues that this generation of musicians are playing to.
I have lived through quite a few jazz renaissances in the UK, the most notable being the flowering of a new generation of jazz artists in the late 80’s including Steve Williamson, Courtney Pine, Lose Tubes, Julian Joseph- all now entering the jazz elder stages of their careers. This time it does feel different, particularly in London, where jazz and jazz’s many influences seems to be here to stay. Not another false dawn. These musicians and their young and enthusiastic audiences will see to that.
On a personal note, the Ezra win will spur me on to seek out and experience more cutting edge jazz from this generation of remarkable musicians. I have much to learn.
Watch this space!
While the playlist naturally opens with a couple of tracks from the Ezra Collective the remainder compromise a polyglot selection from my summer listening-all-with the exception of the final track from Zoe Rahman’s excellent new album- drawn from the American mother ship
I have referenced Terri-Lyn Carrington many times and plan to devote a blog soon to her re-discovery of jazz standards written by women. I recently stumbled across Terri-Lyn’s first album as a leader, TLC and Friends recorded when she was still in her teens and more remarkably with a stellar cast of jazz greats. It is astonishing to hear how confidently she plays in this company.
Saxophonist Wayne Escoffery ought to be much better known and no doubt will be following the release of his latest album featuring star vocalist Gregory Porter.
I keep going back to Ethan Iverson’s intriguingly entitled The Purity of the Turf and include 2 selections here, both of standards which I have often played, in less exalted company with my band. A stellar jazz trio. Hearing Ethan live last year at London’s Vortex was my personal stand out gig in 2022.
Tenor saxophonist Ben Wendel has been around for a while but is new to me and I have selected a couple of reflective pieces from a recent Wendel album.