Album Review: Various Artists – We Out Here (Brownswood)

Listening to Gilles Peterson on 6Music recently it was easy to get the impression that the music scene in New York is where it’s at as far as new jazz is concerned, but this release on Peterson’s Brownswood label tells a different story. London is clearly vying for the hottest city for jazz award as well. The music on here is largely what Peterson is about, grooves and vibes with a soul jazz feel and a worldwide scope. Some of it looks back to the greats of the genre but more often the influence is tacit, this music is vibrant, alive and very much of the now. The instrumentation is what puts it in the broad category of jazz, double bass, brass, woodwind and organ alongside drum lines that are more diverse than you’ll find in most other styles. Unlike many compilations this wasn’t a case of picking a tune from each artist’s latest recording but the fruit of a three day session directed by one of the most successful exponents of contemporary British jazz, saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, whose talents clearly go beyond getting great sound from a horn.

First up is Maisha, a band lead by drummer Jake Long who clearly has a lot of respect for Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane. Inside The Acorn is a delicious rich stew of atmospheric bass clarinet, piano and flute that sounds far too exotic to have come from London. Things get a bit more snappy on Ezra Collective’s Pure Shade, this is by is another drummer lead outfit with Femi Koleoso at the helm, it combines horns, organ and thick electric bass to front up the heavy sound of his kick drum. Another drummer, Moses Boyd of Binker and Moses fame, pulls out a highlight of the album in The Balance, where a heavy synth bass undertow pulsates behind great drumwork and a freak out finale with sax excursions that’s reminiscent of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Sons of Kemet tuba player Theon Cross gives us a full fat bass intro to Brockley which features some intense drumming from Moses Boyd again, this time summoning up the spirit of Henry Threadgill’s Sextet. Nubya Garcia chills things down for a change of pace with Once, an upbeat piano and sax lead piece with nice swing before Shabaka Hutchings’s Black Skin, Black Masks takes us to the next level. This features the beautiful sound of sax, clarinet and bass clarinet over off kilter beats underpinned by taut weighty double bass. Triforce bring a very different sound to the party, here Mansur Brown’s electric guitar conjures up a funk fusion sound that works in this context despite the chromatic departure, not least because the quality of playing that carries the rhythm so well. Piano comes to the fore on Joe Armon’s soul-funk soaked Go See, but this is only one part of the richest mix on the album. It sounds like everyone joined in and built up a monster groove in the process. The album has a lovely finale in Kokoroko’s Abusey Junction where Oscar Jerome’s rounded guitar notes are reminiscent of Ernest Ranglin, a situation reinforced by the Caribbean feel of the track.

We Out Here is an inspiring release, it may be by various artists but it’s not a compilation and that’s what marks it out as worthy of attention. Sound quality is a little dark, the bass is heavier than usual but that does no harm to the essential nature of the grooves contained within it.

Jason Kennedy

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