Jazz is timeless. Jazz is borderless. However, there are movements within Jazz that can certainly be categorised, and not just historically, but in the here and now. One of these we feel is Modern British Jazz, and these are our ten favourite albums from this incredibly innovative genre.
The words ‘modern’, ‘British’ and Jazz’ may not seem to naturally go together very well. However, Modern British Jazz is a hotbed of creativity and innovation, and perhaps most importantly is responsible for some of the most excitingly beautiful music to come out of the UK in recent memory. And, as an added bonus, much of it is very well recorded, well produced and available on vinyl and/or high-resolution download.
It definitely has a feel of a ‘movement’ as well, and there’s a fair degree of crossover between the acts, and while there may not be a massive popular local appeal, the number of Mercury Music nods and global festival appearances attests to the quality on offer here.
Many of the acts may appear traditional – there’s a number of ‘piano trios’ in this list – but with the obvious love of modern classical, experimental, dance, dub, rock and ambient on display in this collection, we can pretty much guarantee there will be something here that will find a regular slot on your playlist.
Basically, just enjoy…
Portico Quartet – Ruins
Portico Quartet are a group that we know very well at Bowers & Wilkins, having released two of their excellent albums via Society of Sound. In many ways Portico Quartet encapsulate our idea of Modern British Jazz, crossing over as they do from the more traditional jazz forms into electronic, ambient and “World’ music. The trance-like nature of much of their music is a thing of beauty.
GoGo Penguin – Man Made Object
We could have opted for GoGo Penguin’s Mercury-nominated and rather excellent V2.0, but then this year’s Man Made Object came along on Bluenote and blew us away all over again. The wonderful shuffling beats and wide open landscapes of this new album just keep on bringing us back time and time again. And it sounds especially good on our vinyl copy.
Polar Bear – Peepers
Polar Bear are an experimental jazz outfit featuring the highly-talented Seb Roachard – who appears elsewhere on this list and also played on and produced MC Bee’s debut offering for Society of Sound Cash Is King. Twice nominated for the Mercury Prize as well as BBC Jazz Awards, Polar Bear refuse to stand still. They constantly change their approach, although everything they have so far released has been notable for being refreshingly innovative and eminently listenable. This album just about pushes out their other offerings as our favourite.
Matthew Halsall – On the Go
Halsall’s On the Go is one of the more traditional sounding albums here, not least because of the timeless quality of his trumpet playing. However, while he is certainly inspired by jazz greats of the past, this album is very much in the here and now. Beautifully eloquent, and very well recorded, it makes for a great introduction to a blossoming discography.
Troyka – Orithophobia
Orithophobia is the three-handed Troyka’s third album, and it sees jazz, rock and electronica collide in an innovative, completely absorbing manner. Yes, it’s an incredibly intense listen – after dinner jazz this is not! – but it soon draws you in and leaves you with little desire to escape. Purchasing the HD download version is strongly advised.
Acoustic Ladyland – Living with a Tiger
Acoustic Ladyland started out almost as a tongue in cheek side project for two members of Polar Bear, with an album of jazz inspired Jimi Hendrix covers. However, by the time Living with a Tiger was released they had put that well behind them, and the band – and this album – stand out in their own right. At times fast and furious, this collection is considarably more punky than many of the offerings here.
Get The Blessing – Bugs in Amber
This is jazz meets rock at its finest! Then jazz meets north African. Then jazz meets… well, lots of things really. The BBC Jazz Award-winning Bristol four-piece deliver a seamless collection of breath-taking innovation. To be honest, almost all of their albums could have been the one in this list, so it is well worth a journey of discovery.
Neil Cowley Trio – Radio Silence
Neil Cowley is a very much in demand pianist: as a session musician he can count the likes of Adele and Emile Sandé as clients. But his award-winning Jazz trio is where is heart lies, and the results are at times spellbinding. A blend of jazz, rock and the experimental, it sounds incredibly engaging. This album, their third, is a particular favourite of ours, but the debut Displaced is well worth a listen as well.
Sons of Kemet – Burn
This modern jazz supergroup has at its heart the sax talent of Shabaka Hutchings and the percussion skills of Polar Bear’s Seb Roachard, and they are very much one of the signature acts of the Modern British Jazz scene. This amazing debut album was released the same year the group won the jazz award at the 2013 Mobos, and it is a truly remarkable record that we just keep coming back to.
Led Bib – Sensible Shoes
Yet another Mercury award-nominated album rounds off our ten favourite Modern British Jazz albums. This avant-garde work by the London five-piece may be one of the more challenging albums in this selection, but it’s complex rhythms and incredibly intertwined instrumentation make for a truly exciting listen if you give it the room in your life.