One of the features of the 2022 alternative London jazz scene is the incorporation of musical styles originating in Africa and the Caribbean, from whence a high proportion of prominent musicians on that scene trace their heritage. Not every band shares this African and/or Caribbean dimension but the majority do and it is one of the factors behind the broadening of the audience base for jazz in Britain that has developed since around 2016.
For the musicians, this move towards demographic and cultural inclusivity is attended by a binary choice. Is the adoption and fusion of African and Caribbean styles "mission accomplished" in itself, the focus of their music, or is it to be used as a stepping stone toward extending the historical jazz vocabulary? The dividing line is blurred but the distinction is clear. Those musicians who some observers contend are creating what may prove to be the most enduring music have chosen the second path, with tenor saxophonists Nubya Garcia and Shabaka Hutchings and alto saxophonists Cassie Kinoshi and Camilla George leading the charge. Others, such as Kokoroko and Ezra Collective, take more of a mission accomplished point of view. Ezra's upcoming 2022 album May The Funk Be With You (Enter The Jungle) doubles down on that direction, as does Kokoroko's first full-length album, Could We Be More.
Cassie Kinoshi is a member of Kokoroko, but the band's direction of travel is primarily set by its founder and leader, trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey. In interviews during the early days of Kokoroko, Maurice-Grey expressed impatience with the fact that much of the band's following was drawn from the existing audience for jazz in London, albeit the more adventurous and outward-facing section of that audience, and she was keen to broaden the band's appeal. So it is no surprise that the Kokoroko's fusion of African (mainly Nigerian and Ghanaian) styles defines and dominates Could We Be More, some will say to the diminution of "jazz" content.
The debate will continue, and whether We Could Be More has staying power only time can tell. Meanwhile, the album's Afrobeat-highlife-soul-funk romp is a terrific summer soundtrack and will go down a storm at festivals and on dancefloors alike.
Tojo; Blue Robe (Pt. I); Ewa Inu; Age Of Ascent; Dide O; Soul Searching; We Give Thanks; Those Good Times; Reprise; War Dance; Interlude; Home; Something’s Going On; Outro; Blue Robe (Pt. II).
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In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.