There's rumour of a South London jazz scene bubbling under the surface of this industry, cordoned off by the powers that be in the music industry, fronted today by names such as Oscar Jerome, Yussef Kamaal, [Hyundai Mercury Prize nominee]) Sons Of Kemet, and The Ezra Collective. For most of us, 'jazz scene’ brings to mind a wall of thick smoke, whiskey on ice, and the soft tones of a double bass, caressed by clarinet or an erratic scene from The Fast Show. But remember, this is 2019, and although trends are cyclical, they return mangled, warped, twisted into something almost unrecognisable. This is the modern jazz scene, formed by various collectives, duos, and solo artists. Fresh-faced players replacing the old boys of the past.
I arrive at Buster Mantis, a watering hole for the Nu Wave Jazz cats tucked inside the arches under the train tracks in Deptford. Musicians are strolling in one by one to unload next door in the other archway, heads nodding to their very own Ezra Collective - Pure Shade, featured on the We Out Here compilation album. A night that was once known as The Steamdown session, fronted by Steamdown themselves was the seed that helped to start this modern uprising that is slowly but surely creeping to the front of the pop industry of today. However, Steamdown sessions has since re-located, and may or may not be a weekly occurrence.
Tonight is Champion Sounds night, fronted by Magda May Day, a jazz group of which its members dip in and dip out weekly. This is Jazz in it's rawest form. Straight improvisation. The constant moving of vast, expansive melodies all rolling into one another. The house band start noodling, it seems even the bar and kitchen staff start warming up for the raucous about to ensue. Cocktails being shaken add an accidental percussive element. The band start.
Everyone moves into the second archway, almost engulfing the band. The saxophonist steps to the centre to start an improvised solo, shortly followed by Laurence on trumpet, as does each other member, stepping to the forefront audibly, and then back into the ‘pocket’. The room is rumbling; is it the energy between the musicians, or the trains racing above us? Every now and then one will shoot the other a look, signifying a change in dynamic - the drummer playing various grooves and stabs with rim shots and the kick, only to open the sound up again on the ride before rolling into another groove. The audience, a sea of bobbing heads all moving to the on-beat or the off-beat, stayed for the entire set, hooked like fish on the line.
Jazz music seems to have rooted its way into huge pop samples and hip hop albums for decades, and now people are starting to realise. With artists in the limelight today such as Jorja Smith, Mahalia, Rejjie Snow, and Loyle Carner all actually using jazz as a medium underneath more contemporary production, the scene is at boiling point. What Magda May Day have shown with their Champion Sounds night is that jazz is for the youth. The jazz scene has been injected with new cells.
Resuscitated and brought back in a new way, with a new view on things. Current up and coming artists such as Oscar Jerome, Puma Blue, Lucy Lu, and South London residents like King Krule all have jazz in their veins, and it's nights like tonight, the many hearts within south London, beating to keep the scene alive, and represented by these brand new artists playing music that's always been there, you just didn't know it.
Words by Floyd Mason