I like jazz. I enjoy listening to jazz. I talk about jazz… a lot, and one of the things I like to tell people is that jazz is not dead. Sure, the media and the average music listener with endless loops of Ed Sheeran, Adele and Nicki Minaj in their ears will think that the genre of jazz is still being played by old men in suits to a quickly diminishing audience of old men in suits, but the truth is that jazz has never left. You can visit any city in Europe or America (add the capital cities of Asia and South America to that list) and you will find a jazz club. The good ones will have an audience of young people too because live music is addictive and live jazz is something that not only affects the ears, but will offer a snapshot of the immediate. Live jazz is in-the-moment, a living, breathing animal that survives on it’s power to impress rather than shock.
I don’t want to sound pretentious (god knows there is already too much of that in jazz, people in berets, sitting silently pondering the inner workings of the Lydian scale whilst nodding sagely to a horn solo) but there is a thriving, booming jazz movement right here in the UK and London, as usual, is at the tip of this surge.
Twenty-two year old pianist Sultan Stevenson has been on the lips of jazz insiders for a little while, I caught a video of him via Jazz Re:Freshed (if you have an interest of jazz but you want to dodge the Blue Note stuff and dive straight in to the current crop, Jazz Re:Freshed is the best place to start, they kicked off the careers of Nubya Garcia, Ashley Henry and Sons Of Kemet creator Shabaka Hutchings) and was impressed immediately.
His debut album, ‘Faithful One’ is eleven songs of jazz that will satisfy the die hards that regard the Blue Note era of Miles, Coltrane, Monk and Mingus as the greatest musical era in history, but will also open the eyes to a new audience. The songs keep a foot in the past but also push forwards with newer influences. ‘Guilty By Association’ has moments of walking bass but hints at Diana Krall with her extended chords and dramatic drums punches.
I love the bass intro (played by Jacob Gryn) of ‘Prayer’, it harks back to the opening work of Charles Mingus and the recording quality is superb, capturing every bass note with such clarity that it feels like you’re in the same room (hopefully beret tucked away in a bag).
‘Thank You, Thank You God’ feels like a moment of prayer – a theme that runs throughout the album, with the word ‘faithful’ in the title, the track ‘prayer’ and now mentioning God, it feels like an ode to the higher power – and one half expects John Coltrane to strike up a solo a la Love Supreme.
It’s powerful, thoughtful and worth the wait. ‘Faithful One’ is a standout track on the album encompassing all that is good about the genre, the shifting rhythms, the interplay of musicians (Joel Waters and Josh Short on drums and trumpet respectively make up the band with Denys Baptiste guesting on sax) and I get the feeling, based on what is on show here, ‘Faithful One’ as an album will be something people will be talking about in years to come. It’s exciting to see where such a young talent can take his music, and I can’t wait to see.