The beauty of jazz lies in its ability to reinvent itself with every new generation of musicians.
Encompassing a plethora of styles and genres, the borders of jazz are impossible to outline, with contemporary artistes finding their own formula to blend tradition with ever-changing cultural and sonic influences.
For the last 20 years, jazz has been one of the most vibrant genres in the global music landscape: constantly evolving, relentlessly transcending its form, and merging with polarly opposite genres, from electronica to rock and contemporary classical.
The result is a fluid ecosystem of inspiring musicians who relentlessly push the genre forward and inspire new generations of jazz listeners.
Today I want to offer a snapshot of the current state of the jazz soundscape by talking about some of the artistes I believe are shaping the future of the genre, constantly breathing new life into a style that seems to never stop evolving.
Let’s dive in!
Makaya McCraven (2017). Credit: Drik Neven/Wikimedia Commons
I feel obliged to kickstart this list with a fellow drummer. With its influence of hip-hop, avant-garde jazz and frantic improvisation, Chicago-based Makaya McCraven created a unique sonic signature and empowered percussions in jazz without sounding self-celebratory.
His latest album, the 2022 In These Times, is a bold blend of orchestral textures, odd time signatures and jazz-rooted progressions, resulting in a work that feels timeless while expanding the role of jazz in the contemporary music landscape.
CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH
Christian Scott; North Sea Jazz Festival 2007. Credit: Evert-Jan Hielema/Wikimedia Commons
Born and raised in New Orleans, a cultural music epicentre unlike any other, Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah has created a powerful sound signature based on ancestral rhythms from West Africa and the Caribbeans, carefully combined with politically-involved avant-garde jazz.
His latest works, Ancestral Recall and Axiom, exude an energy that feels primaeval yet refreshing, with tribal polyrhythmic patterns and haunting trumpet solos that show how much Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah is following a path of his own.
Ezra Collective (2017). Credit: Frolzart/Wikimedia Commons
With a unique blend of neo-soul, hip hop and jazz textures, the London-based Ezra Collective are among the most revolutionary voices in the new UK jazz scene.
With their second album, the ambitious Where I’m Meant To Be, released last November, the quintet celebrated the hybrid sound that made them popular outside the jazz ecosystem, with catchy afro-beat and dance rhythms that exude energy and positive vibes.
Kamasi Washington (2017). Credit: Krists Luhaers/Wikimedia Commons
One might say that jazz is so relevant today because of Kamasi Washington’s debut album.
When released in 2015, The Epic made jazz accessible to everyone without sacrificing the intrinsic complexity of the genre, with the strong hip-hop influences making the album the perfect cultural bridge between the two currents.
His collaborations with ambitious, genre-defying artistes like Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus and St. Vincent made Washington one of the most multifaceted and inspiring jazz artistes of his generation.
Shabaka Hutchings at Glastonbury 2019. Credit: Simoncromptonreid/Wikimedia Commons
Born in London but raised in Barbados, saxophone and clarinet player Shabaka Hutchings is one of the finest examples of versatility and prolificacy in modern jazz.
The ethereal ambient jazz soundscapes of Hutchings’ Afrikan Culture are replaced by the more “earthly” texture of Black To The Future, his 2021 release with the band Sons Of Kemet.
His other projects include Shabaka & The Ancestors, combining Afro and Afro-Caribbean influences in an avant-garde jazz melting pot, and the electro-jazz project The Comet Is Coming.
Nubya Garcia at INNtöne Jazzfestival 2019. Credit: Schorle/Wikimedia Commons
British saxophonist and bandleader Nubya Garcia released her debut EP, Nubya’s 5ive, in 2017, to critical acclaim. Her delicate blend of neo-soul, funk and contemporary jazz creates an enveloping atmosphere that attracts listeners across all genres.
Garcia’s full-length debut album, Source, released in 2020, further expanded the scope of her bold sonic exploration and resulted in a Mercury Prize nomination.
Gogo Penguin in Vienna, Austria (2018). Credit: Robert Wetzlmayr/Wikimedia Commons
The unique combination of electronic influences, cinematic atmospheres and jazz textures makes Gogo Penguin one of the most eclectic examples of jazz evolution of the last decade.
Originally from Manchester, the trio draws inspiration from Debussy as much as from the UK club culture, bringing to life a propulsive style that appeals to both jazz aficionados and clubgoers.
The pinnacle of jazz elegance is right here, pouring out of the notes played by Amanda Whiting’s harp.
The Welsh musician has created such a unique time signature that her music can satisfy the needs of classical and jazz connoisseurs alike.
The soothing atmospheres of Lost in Abstraction, Whiting’s latest release, are the result of folk-based melodies and the finest jazz minimalism, finely tuned to magnify the evocative feeling of the harp’s sound.
Moonchild in Berlin, Germany (2017). Credit: iZilla at flickR/Wikimedia Commons
The urban mood and laid-back style of Moonchild remind me of the lulling atmospheres of neo-soul, enriched by the jazz scales and the captivating voice of Amber Navran.
The delicate balance between West Coast vibes and timeless jazz melodies provides the listener with music that’s innovative yet sounds familiar.
Over the last decade, the trio from Los Angeles has released five excellent albums, the last of which, Starfruit, features a refined sound that further blurs the boundary between contemporary jazz and soul.
The emblematic lo-fi jazz collective Resavoir, captained by trumpeter Will Miller, experiments with jazz-inspired ethereal soundscapes and blends them with cinematic melodies.
The result is an enveloping sonic experience that defies classification, one moment resembling the elegance of contemporary classical, the other venturing into smooth jazz or even hip-hop territories.
Despite the blend of various genres, Resavoir’s music feels coherent and vibrant, which highlights the creativity and collective effort of this incredible ensemble.
EVOLVING, FLUID, ADAPTABLE
Will jazz ever stop evolving? Only time will tell.
What we can say for certain is that, in its current form, it’s so fluid and adaptable to all cultures that it perfectly encapsulates the boundlessness all music should represent.
The improvisation, the well-known structures, and the contaminations coming from all music genres: everything about jazz speaks of freedom of expression, and it’s this constant research for new sonic reinterpretation that makes the jazz ecosystem so vital today.
Cover Credit: A Paper Creative
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Writer | Marco Sebastiano Alessi
Marco is an Italian music producer, composer and writer. He’s the founder of Naviar Records, a music community and record label exploring the connection between experimental electronic music and traditional Japanese poetry.