International Jazz Day is coming up, so we thought we should do a playlist. Not that we really needed the excuse, mind: this is such an explosively exciting time for jazz that we were well overdue doing something like this anyway. Every track on this playlist is from the past 12 months and as you’ll hear, the variety and invention is just mind-boggling. And that comes from jazz truly flexing its muscles as a grassroots form, in a way it hasn’t since the 1970s.
We’ve touched on this already: just in the last year, the Mixtape blog has featured and appreciation of Dave Okumu, interviews with Emma-Jean Thackray and Georgia Anne Muldrow, and an in-depth analysis of Howie Lee. Just this spread of people—coming out of London, Leeds, LA and Shanghai respectively—shows the diversity of talent and influence that is feeding into modern jazz on a grassroots level. All of these artists are producers as much as they are instrumentalists, all take influence from electronic, hip hop and experimental sounds, all overlap with other sounds and scenes.
Where from the ‘80s onwards jazz was generally subsumed into other forms first—pop, dance, hip hop, experimental electronica, etc.—a real movement has risen up globally in the past decade or so that flips the script and puts it as an equal or leading partner in musical fusions. It’s nigh on impossible to pin down what the individual triggers for this have been—pockets within house music, neo soul and the Californian post-hip hop “beat scene” all nurtured talent, while places as far removed as South Africa, Australia and Norway each demonstrated how globalisation doesn’t mean homogenisation.
Add to this far more recognition and opportunity for women players, and a determination among Black artists to create the terms of engagement for their music using the tools of other grassroots scenes like rap and grime, and the scene is set for the current extraordinary range of sound. So here we’ve got music that borders on (or overlaps with) ambient, hip hop, cosmic modular synth jams, soulful house, Steve Reich-style minimalism, post-rock, dub and a whole lot more. Yet every track here is jazz-first, with composers and improvising musicians leading the charge. Some of it is blissful, some is scouring, but all of it are the vivid, living sounds of now. Get involved!
Press play and dive into the new sounds of jazz.
Cover Credit: Victor Freitas / Unsplash
Writer | Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs.