Before getting stuck into this album and film just a few words about why I’ve particularly chosen to write about them now.
As many of you know I first started writing about music just over six years ago when a chance online meeting with Jim of ‘backseatmafia‘ resulted in my contributing to that fine website for over two years. During that time I focussed mainly on ‘Psych’ music, setting up my own site ‘Psych Insight Music’ site at the end of 2016. That has lasted just over two years, during which the number or people checking my stuff out has far exceeded my expectation.
There was, however, a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that having a site that seemed to limit myself to one genre of music, however broad I interpreted it, was ultimately not what I was about. This was amplified by a number of ‘Psych purists’ criticising me for not adhering to their narrow definitions of psych, and latterly by a feeling that the music I was interested in often crossed over into other territories… especially jazz.
Wherever I looked other forms of music seemed to be calling to me, through performances by such as ‘The Comet is Coming‘, ‘Sex Swing’ and ‘The Baltic Fleet’ at the 2017 Liverpool PsychFest; and through any number of bands who are looking to push the boundaries of their music. Looking back over the last few years I can see a trend for me away from formulaic music, whether that be ‘verse/ chorus’ or ‘fast/ slow instrumentals’ toward genre-bending improvisational bands. I too wanted to break out from my self-imposed limitations.
During the first couple of months of this year I began to sense that something very exciting was happening in jazz, particularly around a number of urban centres in the UK; and in the US through the likes of Kamasi Washington… whose ‘Heaven and Earth’ set broke around the same time. I found a few albums I liked and a veritable cornucopia of fantastic music fell into my lap just like that. I was totally overwhelmed by the output of number of musicians and could see that there was a real spirit of openness and collaboration going on… with players appearing on each other’s albums.
One of the prime movers in this seems to be DJ Gilles Peterson, whose Brownswood record label has been going for years… and has recently been turning out a series of albums which captures this spirit. Nowhere is this more the case than in the ‘We out Here’ compilation that I am looking at here.
Actually compilation is the wrong word because the tracks here were all recorded by the artists especially at a three day session, overseen by Shabaka Hutchings (of ‘The Comet is Coming’ and many other collectives). The result is a real snapshot it time, and the sort of multi-artist album that for me provides the perfect starting place for this moment of renewal and revival in jazz.
Accompanying this groundbreaking and potentially defining set is a documentary (see above) about the artists who have contributed to the album, looking at how so many talented and inclusive musicians have come through in London at the same time. The message that they collectively send is hugely inspirational.
A number of things struck me watching this through. The first is the quality of the music. I’ve been listening to the ‘We out Here’ album for a while now without realising just how much it has permeated my brain. Hearing it back here reminded me again of the quality and depth of the music.
The next thing that struck me was hope. In this day and age it is easily to get dragged down with the dire politics of, frankly, my generation. Here, though, are a group of young musicians who have the confidence, talent and awareness to challenge the inwardness and divisiveness that seems to mark so much of what our society has become. Using their music as their voice to develop fresh expressions of identity and place in the world.
Following on from that is the spirit of innovation and collaboration. I had already noticed from listening to a number of the albums of the artists involved here, how much they appear on each others records. This spirit of unity really seems to make the ‘scene’ more than the sum of its parts. There seems to be a real creative dynamism and sense of community going on, something which is evident from the tracks on this album.
In many ways this has been facilitated by a number of people such as Peterson, Gary Crosby (Tomorrow’s Warriors) and Adam Moses (Jazz RE:Freshed) who have all give the young musicians space (in many senses) to grow and develop. This helps to explain why so many artists seem to have come through at once in such an exciting way. However, and this reminds me of the punk scene back in the late 70s, there also seems to have been similar developments going independently such as a 22a in London, Gondwana in Manchester, Running Circle in Nottingham and bands such as Roller Trio coming out of Leeds.
While you could definitely call the scene ‘jazz’ because there is a certain jazz denominator to the music, I thought it interesting that there was a broad agreement on the documentary about the genre. Musicians were keen to honour the jazz artists that have inspired them, but there was also a sense that they were creating something new out of their own experiences. I found it so refreshing to see that any ideas of canonical purity (something that has really put me off jazz) were being respectfully set aside, with a number of contributors wanting to go as far as calling their music ‘improvisational’ and nothing more.
It is this last point that makes me realise why my own musical journey has alighted here. I had already found myself focussing on improvisational and experimental music that was coming out of the ‘psych’ scene, which is why finding this rich seam of music through Brownswood and the like has been just so exciting for me. That does not mean I will be abandoning the sort of music that I have been writing about over the last few years… but I do sense getting new inspiration and motivation from such new freedoms of expression.
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