London has always been home to a thriving jazz scene. Several things distinguish that scene today – the gender and racial diversity of the players, their achievement at a young age and the wide range of musical influences from hip-hop, club sounds and the African and Caribbean diaspora. Much of this diversity has its roots in the innovative educational organization, Tomorrow’s Warriors, whose work over the past thirty years has produced a crescendo of young artists coming of age today.
Tenor and flute player Nubya Garcia, now 28, caught a lot of attention four years ago when she released her EP Nubia’s 5ive. Of her hook-ladden composition Lost Kingdoms, Natalie Weiner of JazzTimes writes, “The first thing you hear is a bright, asymmetrical, unison melody that’s repeated enough times to stay in your head. Then, suddenly, it’s tempered by a slinky hip-hop groove that grounds an equally decisive, opposing melodic line. Lost Kingdoms … is the rare jazz composition without words that you can still sing along to. Written, played, and recorded with superlative clarity and ease, Kingdoms has the punch of a pop single without any creative compromise.”
Garcia’s 2020 disc Source landed on many reviewer’s best-of-the-year lists, anchored, as was Nubia’s 5ive by fellow Tomorrow’s Warriors alumni trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey (aka Ms. Maurice) and keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones. Quoting Natalie Weiner again, “There’s no explicit focus on being “political” on Source. As the title suggests, Garcia’s Trinidadian, Guyanese, and British roots are central to the music, both aesthetically and as a guiding theme. The geographic range of her own background and influences is reflected in both the album’s wide rhythmic palette, in which dub and stripped-down West African percussion co-exist seamlessly with traditional drum set, and the thoughtful, creative structure and design of each tune.”
Lost Kingdoms. Nubya Garcia Sextet
(Sheila Maurice-Grey-tp, Nubya Garcia-ts, Joe Armon-Jones-p/key, Daniel Casimir-b, Moses Boyd-d, Femi Koloeso-d). From Nubya’s 5ive. Jazz Re:freshed. 2017.
Before Us: In Demerara & Caura. Nubya Garcia Quartet with Ms. Maurice
(Ms. Maurice-flh, Nubya Garcia-ts, Joe Armon-Jones-p/key, Daniel Casimir-b, Sam Jones-d). From Source. Concord Jazz. 2020.
Yazz Ahmed and Nerija
At 38, trumpeter Yazz Ahmed is one of the veterans on the scene, having released her debut recording in 2012. Born of Bahrani and British parents and raised both in Bahrain and London, Ahmed’s middle-eastern roots are apparent in her 2017 release La Saboteuse, through the comfortable integration of Arabic modes and scales. Chris May of AllAboutJazz wrote that hers “is a genuinely transcultural music, rooted in Middle Eastern and jazz traditions yet also resolutely futuristic.” The remarkable guitarist Samuel Hällkvist and percussionist Corrina Silvester provide a foundation for multi-tracked trumpet counterpoint on the tune El Emadi. The dynamic of the tune Jamil Jamal is enriched through the addition of Shabaka Hutchings on bass clarinet.
Nerija is a nearly all-women collective founded at Tomorrow’s Warriors and featuring a four-horn frontline of Ms Maurice on trumpet, Rosie Turton on trombone, Cassie Kinoshi on alto and Nubya Garcia on tenor. The rhythm section is anchored by the exciting guitarist Shirley Tetteh with Rio Kai on bass and Lizy Exell on drums. Consistent with the collaborative premise, the band’s debut disc Blume includes two joint compositions and one by each member of the band. Chris May writes, “A defining feature of the new London scene is its collegiate nature. This did not come about by accident. The influence of the pioneering Tomorrow’s Warriors project is writ large. The organisation, which was co-founded in 1991 by bassist Gary Crosby and his partner, Janine Irons, who still lead it, gives theory, technique and performance training to aspirant jazz musicians with a special focus on those from the African diaspora and young women.” The highly singable line of the tune Partner Girlfriend Lover was written by guitarist Shirley Tetteh.
Al Emadi. Yazz Ahmed Trio
(Yazz Ahmed-tp/fih, Samuel Hällkvist-g, Corrina Silvester-per). From La Saboteuse. Naim Jazz. 2018.
Partner Girlfriend Lover. Nérija
(Sheila Maurice-Grey-tp, Rosie Turton-tb, Cassie Kinoshi-as, Nubya Garcia-ts, Shirley Tetteh-g, Rio Kai-b, Lizy Exell-d). From Blume. Domino Recording. 2019.
Jamil Jamal. Yazz Ahmed Septet
(Yazz Ahmed-tp/flh, Shabaka Hutchings-bcl, Naadia Sheriff-p, Samuel Hällkvist-g, Dudley Phillips-b, Martin France-d, Corrina Silvester-per). From La Saboteuse. Naim Jazz. 2018.
Theon Cross and Yazz Ahmed
In 2018, multi-reedist Shabaka Hutchings curated the capture of this moment on the London scene with the recording of nine different units on the disc We Out Here for the supportive label Brownswood Recordings. Then 25-year-old tuba player Theon Cross, a contributor to several London-based bands, leads his own unit on the disc, recording his tune Brockley with Nubya Garcia and drummer Moses Boyd.
Yazz Ahmed’s 2019 release Polyhymnia derives from a Tomorrow’s Warrior-commissioned suite about “Powerful and Inspirational Women.” As Chris May writes, “Polyhymnia is not so much otherworldly as purposefully earthbound. It is a suite inspired by six courageous and influential women … [including] Ruby Bridges, who aged six was instrumental in desegregating the New Orleans school system…” The selection Ruby Bridges ties the ensemble to Bridges’ hometown with the recurring second-line drumming.
Brockley. Theon Cross Trio
(Theon Cross-tu, Nubya Garcia-ts, Moses Boyd-d). From We Out Here. Brownswood Recordings. 2018.
Ruby Bridges. Yazz Ahmed Large Ensemble
(Yazz Ahmed, Noel Langley, Becca Toft, Carol Jarvis, Tori Freestone, Helena Kay, Gemma Moore, Alcyona Mick, Samuel Hällkvist, Shirley Tetteh, Charlie Pyne, Sophie Alloway, Corrina Silvester). From Polyhymnia. Ropeadope. 2019.
The power of inspiring and purposeful educational opportunities to seed creative endeavors is on full view as a new generation of London players take a commanding position in the world of jazz and improvisational music. As Kate Hutchinson wrote in the Guardian, “In the UK, a new and thrilling jazz movement has evolved. …it is born out of fresh experimentalism, is reaching far younger, more diverse audiences and doesn’t care for snootiness. Unlike in previous waves, these musicians are in their 20s and early 30s, come from diverse backgrounds and … have created their own community outside of major labels and concert halls.”
Hutchinson, Kate. (2018, April 8). The Guardian. The British jazz explosion: meet the musicians rewriting the rulebook. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/apr/08/british-jazz-invasion-moses-boyd-matthew-halsall-nubya-garcia
Weiner, Natalie. (2020, September 21). JazzTimes. Nubya Garcia Stands Out on London’s Jazz Scene. https://jazztimes.com/features/profiles/nubya-garcia-stands-out-on-londons-jazz-scene/
May, Chris. (2020, August 22). AllAboutJazz. Nubya Garcia: Source. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/source-nubya-garcia-concord-music-group
May, Chris. (2018, February 20). AllAboutJazz. Yazz Ahmed: La Saboteuse. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/la-saboteuse-yazz-ahmed-naim-label-review-by-chris-may.php
May, Chris. (2019, July 15). AllAboutJazz. Nerija: Blume. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/blume-nerija-domino-records-uk-review-by-chris-may.php
Micucci, Matt. (2019, August 6). Jazziz. Track By Track: Nérija, “Blume”. https://www.jazziz.com/track-by-track-nerija-blume/
May, Chris. (2018, February 24). AllAboutJazz. Various Artists: We Out Here. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/we-out-here-various-artists-brownswood-recordings-review-by-chris-may.php
May, Chris. (2019, December 15. AllAboutJazz. Yazz Ahmed: Polyhymnia. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/polyhymnia-yazz-ahmed-ropeadope
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