Live Review \\ Terrace Martin, Makaya McCraven and Takuya Kuroda at the Jazz Cafe
The New Jazz Blueprint
Bass so heavy it feels like it’s massaging your internal organs. Grooves that walk with a limp, dreamy synth chords prefaced by that little lift (Robert Glasper’s sonic signature) and vicious snare drum backbeats like a retractable bolt in your cranium. Beat three. It’s all about beat three.
That. Plus a young crowd, crammed in shoulder to shoulder, nodding heads and bare brickwork and blue light and segues and switches of feel that make set lists feel like mixtapes mixed live. That’s the new jazz blueprint – the defining sound, look and feel of the last few of years. It’s where the momentum is.
Three sets across two nights at the Jazz Cafe in Camden, on the opening weekend of the London Jazz Festival, proved it. Chicagoan drummer Makaya McCraven and his young quintet played tracks from In the Moment, an album made by cutting and pasting samples of the band’s live jams and turning them into finished pieces. Now they’re touring those tunes and embellishing them further. Japanese-born New York-based trumpeter Takuya Kuroda drew from his Blue Note debut, Rising Son, and from new release Zigzagger. Switching between jostling alto sax and pleading vocoder, Terrace Martin, producer to Kendrick Lamar and Herbie Hancock, focused on material from his latest album, Velvet Portraits.
All of which meant soulful hooks, bluesy melodies and searching solos, full of knotty jazz harmony and holds that made you want to pump your fist. McCraven dropped beats of thrilling complexity – grooves riddled with wriggling off-kilter bass-lines, haywire hihat and kicks to double time. Kuroda name-checked Fela Kuti and brought a little afrobeat swagger to the party; and Martin’s rhythm section, the Polly Seeds, played with the kind of commitment that shows you how much hip hop can teach jazz about intensity and distilling virtuosity into the sparsest of grooves.
No one hits harder than Martin’s drummer, Trevor Lawrence Jr.. Watching him storm through an opening swinger, punctuated by the lairy sax hook from Kendrick Lamar’s For Free?, and throw himself into a jaw-droppingly heavy, mind-alteringly disgusting tribute to West Coast icons Battlecat and DJ Quik, with Martin on Minimoog synth, made you wonder whether some drummers are even trying.
There are people who’ll tell you that the new jazz blueprint means dumbing the music down and casting aside tradition, but they’re wrong. Done like this, hip hop is so good for jazz. There’s really no argument. It brings the music out of itself, drags it back onto the dancefloor and makes it feel young again. And the tradition is there too, coming face to face with new audiences. When Martin and keys-player Taber Gable paid tribute to Duke Ellington with In a Sentimental Mood, one of the oldest, tiredest standards of them all, they made it sound fresh and vital. It brought a hush to the room.
JS | Thomas Rees
Image credits: Roger Thomas