Undefinable and unmissable: Meet the rising artists radically altering London’s jazz scene

Undefinable, uncontainable and unmissable: Today’s London youngsters are placing jazz back on the map. Lola Grieve caught up with MOBO Award-winning drummer Moses Boyd to find out more.

From time to time, the non-jazz enthusiast is reminded that jazz is still ‘alive and kicking’. Be it the annual tokenistic nod at the Mercury Prize, or instead through watching culturally-questionable Hollywood films, jazz has always been something of a cultural backbencher in the mainstream, despite the last impact on today’s biggest stars.

But recently, it’s been out with the old-school and in with the new, reaching out to diversified audiences. Jazz is coming into our nightclubs: in 2019, it is undefinable, uncontainable and unmissable.

The London jazz explosion is by no means the first time there has been a seismic shift. But, supported by the resurgence of jazz-influenced sounds in the mainstream, this new cross-cultural jazz is defying the laws of genre.

Take twenty-seven-year-old London jazz drummer, composer and producer Moses Boyd, dubbed by influential DJ, Gilles Peterson, as ‘the next Art Blakey’, who boasts a remarkable musical CV. Catford-born Boyd has recently been appointed as a new resident on BBC Radio 1Xtra, having previously worked and collaborated with the likes of Four Tet, Sampha, Peterson and Little Simz. He also leads his own outfits The Exodus and Solo Exodus, seamlessly fusing jazz, grime and electronic influences together.

Under his own label Exodus Records, Boyd has released two solo projects, ‘Absolute Zero’ (2017) and his first full-length album ‘Displaced Diaspora’ (2018). Moses Boyd Exodus, one of Boyd’s several musical projects whose band includes Theon Cross, Binker Golding and Artie Zaits, have released two EPs on the label ‘Footsteps of Our Father’ and ‘Time and Space’.

Outside of Exodus Records, Boyd is an in-demand collaborator, having released a number of LPs as a duo with saxophonist Binker Golding, including their debut Dem Ones (2015), which in 2015 earned the duo the MOBO Award for Best Jazz Act.

“Freedom comes with its own set of responsibilities, but I think it’s something that’s having a positive effect in controlling narrative, representation and ideas particularly in the jazz world,” Boyd says. “For a long time, people had their own pre-conceptions about jazz – how it sounds, how it looks, where it’s played, but I think many of us independent artists have helped reshaped that narrative by being in control of our art and business.”

Boyd has worked with countless other key players in the scene to do just that, including the saxophonist and composer Nubya Garcia. The pair are frequent collaborators, featuring on several tracks on London-based tuba player Theon Cross’ album ‘Fyah’. Garcia is also a member of Nérija, a London-based all-female jazz septet, who have collaborated with Boyd on tracks on Blue Lab Beats’ 2018 album ‘Xover’. The Camden-born tenor saxophone player’s sound is self-assured but stylistically malleable, welcoming the likes of hip-hop, garage, and broken beat into her musical realm. Afro-Caribbean and Latin styles are skilfully crafted into her works, with Garcia self-labelling her work as ‘afro-tinged jazz’. Pulling liberally from other genres, Garcia’s self-released EP When We Are is intelligently experimental, as her ever-growing contribution to British jazz toys with ideas of genre.

In this cohort of talented young players, you’ll also stumble across the likes of Ezra Collective, who recently released collabs with Loyle Carner and Jorja Smith in the lead up to their recent release. Jazz is straying off in all sorts of directions in search for exciting new sounds.

Take Boyd’s 2018 album ‘Displaced Diaspora’, a collaborative effort featuring other leading lights like Theon Cross, Nubya Garcia and Nathaniel Cross. Steering clear of the commercial void of the mainstream, this sense of collective with other London musicians has constructed a cross-collaborative musical network. “At the heart of it all, community is strong,” Moses says, “The friendships run deep. That collective spirit and support for one another is a huge factor, for sure, and a testament to unity really – what can be achieved when you work together.”

‘Displaced Diaspora’ confirms the triumphs of such collaborations, travelling from the effortlessly cool ‘Axis Blue’ and ‘Waiting on the Nightbus’, to the infectious ‘Rye Lane Shuffle’, which was mixed by Four Tet in his Boiler Room set back in 2015. Possessesing a strong sense of London was necessary. “This was intentional – I was trying to soundtrack the experiences of mine growing up in this city,” Moses says. “I wanted to encapsulate that in sound for someone who’s not from London to give another insight into the landscape I’ve been brought up around.”

The rise of the multi-skilled musician is enabling jazz to be conceptualised in different ways. Asking whether producing and DJing has influenced the way that he interacts with jazz. “When I started making EPs I was really trying to get away from ‘traditional’ jazz sounding recordings, like a Blue Note or Impulse Records sound,” he says. I wanted my stuff to sound like a lot of the ‘70s funk and experimental records I was discovering, and that discovery was massively influenced by DJ culture and digging for records.”

Moses and others are now taking their sounds to international audiences. “The London music scene is healthy and its being received well, played and appreciated all over the world,” Moses says. “We’re collaborating with new people and new sounds, so I’m sure it will continue to go on leaps and bounds.”

Now on an international platform, London’s eclectic jazz community is reaching out to wider audiences. Jazz in 2019 is crossing borders as well as genres. Charged with esoteric experimentalism, the London jazz stars of today are en route to be the international stars of tomorrow. 

Words by Lola Grieve