There’s so much I want to talk about in regards to Whistler’s Green and I think I’ll be coming back to it a few times before the festival, however for now I think we need to talk about Jazz!
As you might have seen in The Guardian yesterday, there’s something of a ‘UK Jazz Invasion’ going on at the moment. Despite being a massive Jazz fan for many years, this is possibly the most excited I’ve been about the artists who fall within it’s spectrum since the 90s, when I first started digging for the tunes that my favourite Hip-hop tracks had sampled, whilst simultaneously being introduced to the likes of Young Disciples, Incognito, Brand New Heavies and Ronny Jordan.
Obviously Gilles Peterson was a massive influence to my musical education back then and ever since, so I’m very excited that he will be playing the Thursday night of the Windmill Stage this year (alongside almighty crate digger DJ Format plus Beating Heart and Stagga & Magugu). He undoubtedly provides a sense of cohesion to the rest of the line up here, plus is a damn good DJ. I once played directly after him at a festival and kicked myself for not bringing a more interesting selection with me that time. Plus he shall be bringing Earl Zinger along. Not only was I a Galliano fan back in the day, but ‘Escape From Ibiza’ received heavy rotation in our house when it came out.
But back to the bands! I think it’s fair to say that nothing inspires, satisfies and provokes me like Jazz. In those rare moments when I get to play an album the whole way through without distraction, it’s almost always a Jazz album. I’ve been playing around with a line up like this for Boomtown for the past few years, it just feels right to launch now. albeit slightly slimmed down from my original plans and including some other great acts from Reggae (it is only a slight bimbling distance from the Lion’s Den after all), Soul (if you’ve not heard Liam Bailey sing then it’s a wonder to behold) and beyond.
Sons Of Kemet
Last year at Boomtown I booked a band who had provided one of the standout gigs of the year before (to my recollection it was between them and Kamasi Washington). They were called The Brother Moves On and were from South Africa. With them came Shabaka Hutchings as a guest saxophone player, one of the most powerful players I’ve ever witnessed (he also jumped up with Congo Natty later). Shabaka is totally hypnotising to watch play, and he also has a hand in some of the best Jazz leaning bands in the UK. To my knowledge these include Melt Yourself Down (the first band I saw him with I believe), The Comet Is Coming (another band on The Windmill this year and 2016 Mercury Prize nominees) and Sons Of Kemet (though also check out another South African project called Shabaka & The Ancestors on Brownswood).
I’d been wanting to see Sons Of Kemet for some time, and finally did at last year’s WOMAD festival. Wow! I honestly haven’t danced that hard in a long time. Not the sort of thing people normally say after watching a Jazz band these days, but they grabbed me by the soul and shook me til I dropped. It wasn’t just the two drummers knocking out the hardiest of rhythms, the chemistry between the band was electric, you never would have believed that one of the drummers was covering and had never played with them before (I believe it was Giles King-Ashong).
I originally had the band earmarked for the Old Mines stage, but when I had to move them to The Windmill, they became the cornerstone for finally realising my dreams of a Jazz heavy line up.
Funnily enough, it was whilst watching Sons Of Kemet at WOMAD that I met Nick Mulvey, one of the original members of Portico Quartet. He left to pursue a successful solo career in 2011 and the band eventually changed their name to just Portico, whilst also following a more electronic path on the Ninja Tune label.
I still haven’t had the full details for this set and I’m not sure if their return to the original name marks a comeback for Mulvey, but I’m fairly sure they will be reintroducing the hang drum, saxophone and drum kit into the mix once more. Either way I’m excited to be able to have them on the line up as they fit perfectly.
One thing most of these bands have in common is a strong relationship to electronic music. I loved the way that electronic artists like Flying Lotus and Daedelus were heavily influenced by Jazz and over the last few years especially, the scales have noticeably tipped the other way (of course we’ve had bands here such as Jazzanova, 4Hero and plenty more for a while, but that’s a different relationship). As Yussef Dayes from United Vibrations and Yussef Kamaal says in today’s Guardian “I’m sure that some purists wouldn’t even call it jazz, but for me jazz is about creative freedom and it’s always been my interpretation… When you grow up in London, you’re just inspired by a mix of these things.” Although GoGo Penguin are on the smoother end of the scale compared with the likes of Sons Of Kemet and The Comet Is Coming, these influences are still very much apparent. They also feel undeniably British, pulling in everything from Drum N Bass to Trip hop, which makes for incredibly uplifting live shows indeed.
I’ve already mentioned about Shabaka Hutchings performing with The Brother Moves On at last year’s Boomtown, however there were actually 2 incredible guest saxophonists with them that day.
Shabaka had been joining TBMO on a couple of UK dates but had other engagements the night before Boomtown so had called on Nubya Garcia to take his place. This resulted in both of them coming to Boomtown, and it was a delight to witness, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Nubya was a member of Nérija as I had already earmarked them for an invitation to play this year.
One thing I love about Jazz is it’s ability to explore all the cracks in your soul you didn’t know were there, and Nerija’s music feels like being bathed in a warmth that seeks out all of the hard to reach parts. They’re definitely refreshing, playing a soulful blend of contemporary jazz which also pulls in elements of Highlife and Afrobeat in particular.
As was suggested earlier, there may be some Jazz purists out there who take issue with this kind of line up being touted as ‘Jazz’ but I’ve never really pandered to purists, in fact I tend to go as much the other way as possible. I like rebels and rule breakers, those who defy convention because they don’t like constraints. I fall into similar issues with our Folk line up, but truth be told, if you’re that uptight about things like that then Boomtown probably isn’t the festival for you anyway.
Soweto Kinch is certainly breaking down barriers. He’s been building on the long relationship between Jazz and Hip-hop for years, but rather than trying to fit Jazz into the constraints of a Hip-hop formula as most have, he uses Hip-hop as a tool for greater freedom of expression. His talent as a producer, saxophone player and rapper is inspiring in itself but the sheer depth and breadth of his output really stirs up something inside of me.
There are plenty more acts to check out at The Windmill if you’re so inclined. United Vibrations I wrote about in the last post and The Comet Is Coming I’ve already mentioned here, but Nomade Orquestra from Brazil are a must see and on a slightly different tip, Cuban / Iranian group Ariwo should appeal also. There’s also Yusufla on the Floating Lotus stage, a great up and coming Jazz heavy band from London.
As I said there’s a lot more to be explored in Whistler’s Green so I’ll probably revisit again next week before the Sector 6 announcement on Wednesday!