Jazz It Up

Although I’m generally sat somewhere between ambivalent and contemptuous towards award ceremonies, occasionally they can give a fairly good view of what’s happening within a scene and sometimes they can also put artists or releases on your radar that you might have missed. Off the top of my head the only awards ceremony I can think of that are any good for this is the Jazz FM awards that happened last night, so let’s start there.

To be honest, I don’t really feel qualified to write about jazz, I grew up on everyone from John Coltrane to Gil Scott Heron thanks to my Dad and have been an avid collector since running a music store many years ago. Back then the regular customers expected me to know everything about each album in the store, from what label it was on and where it was recorded to which musicians played on it, so I gave myself a solid education, however I still feel like I know next to nothing about it. That said, it’s not just Jazz I have this problem with lots of different types of music, largely because I don’t have a musical background. What I have is a music lover’s background or a music listener’s, but not a musician’s and I feel that Jazz especially requires some understanding of what’s going on to really do it justice. Not that I’m going to let that stop me of course.

Now you might think you don’t like Jazz, but it’s such a broad spectrum I bet we can find something that resonates and now is a great time to get into it, so here’s a run down of the winners from last night. It covers many different styles so don’t be scared off if at first you come across something that you’re not quite gelling with.

Instrumentalist of the Year: Mark Lockheart

I only really know Mark as the saxophone player with the excellent Polar Bear, who were nominated for Best UK Jazz act last year and possibly missed out due to their album ‘The Same As You’ being released not long before the awards. However Mark started off with a band called Loose Tubes who split in 1990 and reformed in 2014, they released an album last year comprising live recordings from their final gig at Ronnie Scotts in 1990 and a 2014 BBC Radio 3 session. That’s not all though, he had 2 other releases in 2015 so he deserves an award for his prolific nature alone. There’s the drummerless trio Malija, who released ‘The Day I Had Everything’ and also The Printmakers, an ensemble put together by pianist Nikki Iles and one of the country’s most respected Jazz vocalists, Norma Winstone.

Soul Artist of the Year: Jill Scott

I have to confess I’ve had Jill Scott’s ‘Woman’ album in my listening pile since it came out, but it took me till today to listen to it properly. I’m glad I was prompted to do so because it’s a beauty. There’s plenty of the silky smooth jazzy R’n’B style numbers that first pulled me in on ‘Who Is Jill Scott’ but my favourites have more of a classic soul feeling, from the bluesy You Don’t Know above to the high energy, almost Northern Soul-esque ‘Coming To You’ and ‘Run Run Run’ which reminds me very much of ‘Run’ by Tiggs Da Author and Lady Leshurr, though a little more traditional sounding.

Breakthrough Act + UK Jazz Act of the Year: Binker & Moses

Some of my favourite Jazz shows recently have been from trios such as Too Many Zooz or The Comet Is Coming, but these guys strip it back even further to just the two of them (Binker Golding on tenor saxophone and Moses Boyd on drums), whilst managing to push the boundaries even further too, with less rules and more improvisation. They’ve already won a MOBO Award for best Jazz Act for last year’s ‘Demo Ones’ album and here they rack up not one but two awards for it. They both have respectable solo careers but have played together as members of other bands since their late teens. This album apparently stemmed from various experiments and ideas formed whilst on tour with Zara McFarlane. It feels like part of an ongoing conversation they have been having since they first met, one that will likely carry on for some time yet.

Blues Artist of the Year: Gary Clark Jr.

I first heard of Gary Clark Jr from Texas when someone played me a video from one of his 2010 live shows, he’s been on my wanted list for the Old Mines stage ever since and although I haven’t yet dug deeply through his back catalogue, there’s nothing on his latest album ‘The Story Of Sonny Boy Slim’ that would make me change my mind on that. It’s smooth Texan blues with touches of soul, funk, rnb and hip hop that should appeal to a wide reaching audience, though I still think it’s in the live arena that this music will shine properly..

Vocalist of the Year: Lauren Kinsella

I know Lauren mostly as the vocalist for Snowpoet, an amazing band that mostly centres around her and bassist Chris Hyson. My good friend and Chrome Kids cohort, Mevs aka Snowskull first introduced me to them when he remixed their track Alive With Closed Eyes with another friend of mine you might have seen on here a few times, Jauge. Mevs also provided the cover art for last year’s stunning self titled debut album.

Far from her only project, Hannah sings with Blue-Eyed Hawk, Thought Fox, Chaos Orchestra, Alphabets with Hannah Marshall and Nick Malcolm and her own Lauren Kinsella quintet. She also performs in a duo with drummer Alex Huber, in a trio with pianist Liam Noble & trumpeter Chris Batchelor, with Laura Jurd’s Human Spirit, in a duo with Loop pianist Dan Nicholls, and with Julien Pontvianne’s Abhra. There could well be some others too. She is also an advanced jazz singing teacher for Leeds College of Music and a senior lecturer on the Leeds Conservatoire’s Undergraduate Programme. So not only has she got a beautiful voice, but she seriously know’s her shit.

International Artist Of The Year: Kamasi Washington

I’ve probably spoken plenty about this dude and his band on here, one of my top two Jazz gigs of last year (alongside The Brother Moves On) and one of my favourite albums also. He’s signed to Brainfeeder and I’m still always surprised at the profile that Flying Lotus has managed to achieve over the past few years, let alone this experimental jazz saxophonist who does not invite you in easily, yet once you’ve made it through the door has all the treasures you need. His success has certainly helped to open doors for a new generation of jazz artists too and has inspired the interest of many listeners to give jazz a chance once more.

Album Of The Year – Public Vote: Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon

An album I really need to go back to. I’ve played it a couple of times and enjoyed it but not given it the proper space it deserves yet. Perhaps on the way to Big Love tonight! I’ve been a fan of these guys since I first heard Nakamarra, a song that even after maybe 100 listens still manages to give me goosebumps. I’m looking forwards to seeing them live at Kelburn Garden Party up in Scotland this summer as I was dragged away from their set at Glastonbury and have only ever seen Nai Palm (the singer) solo at Gilles Peterson’s Award Ceremony a few years back. If you’re a fan of the soulful electronic stuff that Mevs and I were playing on our Chrome Kids show before we left Radio Cardiff then you will no doubt love these guys also.

Digital Initiative of the Year: Jacob Collier

Taking the one man band thing way beyond a loop pedal, this singer and multi-instrumentalist became a YouTube sensation with his home produced videos of music covers that show him playing every instrument and also singing harmonies with himself. I’m yet to see how he pulls this off live, despite him being from London, but he’s being mentored by the great Quincy Jones and The Guardian have already proclaimed him as the ‘new jazz messiah’, that along with winning this award goes some way to showing me he must have managed it pretty well somehow. The video above is his new single ‘Hideaway’.

Jazz Innovation of the Year: Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah

I first came across this incredible trumpet player thanks to his NPR Tiny Desk Concert in October which blew me away (video above). His album Stretch Music is probably my most listened to jazz album of the year, being interesting and entertaining enough to keep me coming back whilst not quite so demanding as Kamasi Washington who only really gets brought out on the headphones during long journeys. Stretch Music is perfect for cooking, cleaning, Sunday afternoon strolls or just straight up late night listening sessions of which jazz is generally my preferred musical choice if I’m on my own (or with other jazz lovers of course). Honestly if you’ve made it this far in the post I think you’d probably dig it. There’s two of the tracks from it included in the session above (first two) and here’s a third just to whet your appetite properly. I’m not sure exactly where it is that this track takes me but it’s some place beautiful.

Live Experience of the Year – Pubic Vote: Ice-T and Ron McCurdy – The Langston Hughes Project at the Barbican

I must admit that even with the (perhaps refreshingly) loose interpretation of jazz that festival line ups such as Mostly or Montreaux offer these days, I had to do a double take when I saw Ice T’s name on the London Jazz Festival line up last year. Of course this project does make sense in context as it celebrates the work of 1920s Harlem jazz poet (social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist) Langston Hughes, and Ice certainly has a perfect voice and delivery for poetry. I unfortunately missed the performance but it did inspire me to dip into some of Langston’s poems and this one called Mother to Son resonated quite strongly with me for obvious reasons.

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor —
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now —
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Impact Award: Gregory Porter

Another artist I’ve given plenty of praise to over the last year. I remember playing his ‘Liquid Spirit’ track on the Heaven stage of Glastonbury in 2014, then watching him perform live on West Holts last year totally saved my Saturday (or was it Friday, or maybe Sunday… either way it sorted me right out) and I’m very much looking forwards to seeing him there again this year with a new album in tow that drops next week!

PPL Lifetime Achievement Award: Quincy Jones

Total legend, with an incredible career spanning six decades. As mentioned he’s now mentoring young jazz artists such as Jacob Collier and pianist Justin Kauflin (if you’ve not seen the documentary ‘Keep On Keepin’ On’ yet I recommend it) as well as still touring and producing. I’d love to go in-depth on bigging him up but I’ve run out of time til after the weekend and want to post this up, there’s plenty out there about him though so have an explore of his history and musical legacy whether you know his work already or not.

Right I’m off to Big Love at Baskerville Hall, see you after the weekend.

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