Jazz Re:freshed can be seen as the glue to London’s incredible jazz scene, having run a weekly jazz residency there for the past 15 years. Beyond that, they’ve hosted jazz stages at festivals, developed an already impressive record label, issued an annual print magazine and are now touching bases internationally as well. They’ve situated themselves at the vanguard of promoting the prolific UK jazz scene abroad by hosting showcases at SXSW, New York, Paris, Brazil, New Orleans and the like. JAZZ RE:FEST is an annual celebration of the cutting edge jazz scene that they champion, which we’re lucky to welcome to Brighton Dome for the first time this year, after having taken place at the Southbank Centre for the past five years.
With ties to Brighton, Vels Trio made the perfect start to seven hours of music in the big dark room of the Dome. Playing the earliest slot of the day – at a time they’re unlikely to have ever even rehearsed at – their silky-smooth jazz, with hip-hop influences, was a taster of the high standards to come. Continuing the laid-back feels, Noya Rao’s dreamy neo-soul beautifully filled the venue. Olivia Bhattacharjee’s phenomenal vocal was a thing to behold, sounding particularly good on ‘Golden Claw’ which they finished with.
Taking a more traditional jazz disposition, Daniel Casimir‘s set showcased just why he is held in such high regard as a double bassist. Countless solos amazed the room, leaving no doubt that Daniel will be a fresh favourite for jazz fans old and new. Back in 2017, Blue Lab Beats were one of the acts on everybody’s lips after bringing some incredible sets to Brighton’s Great Escape festival, and now with a well received album in tow, they come to the Dome with quite the reputation. With a sound that could be seen as a more accessible style of jazz, mixing ideas from hip-hop, soul and electronica, their engaging and sunny set showed that the astonishingly young duo will be around for many years to come.
My personal highlight came in the form of Ed “Tenderlonious” Cawthorne and his Ruby Rushton quartet. It felt like all the possibilities of what could be done within live jazz had been stepped up: switching between his soprano sax and flute to create an expressive journey through cool sonic worlds. Alto-saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi, who leads the 10-piece SEED Ensemble, was this year’s poster-girl for JAZZ RE:FEST, bringing with it anticipation and excitement. With a front-line of six horns, it’s safe to say SEED smash expectations, tying West African and Caribbean-influenced grooves together with big band jazz to create an enchanting cinematic sound.
As one of the most impressive musicians to come from London’s rich jazz scene, the drummer with a continuous volatility in his style was a more than suitable headliner – Yussef Dayes, standing as a trio onstage with a bassist and guitarist, he was sharp and relentless. The performance that went from calming lows to intense highs fell in the realms of jazz fusion and prog rock, with guitarist Mensur Brown coming close to stealing the show with some truly unreal guitar solos.
The last couple of years has been a special time in the genre of jazz and the incredible strength of the JAZZ RE:FEST line-up validates this. Musicians like Kamasi Washington have been bringing jazz to a wider audience in the States by working with hip-hop acts. While UK jazz is as strong as it ever has been, feeding off the South London dance scene to create a phenomenal pool of talent. Jazz Re:freshed can be thanked and lauded, as this will be the decade that will be seen as the time when jazz came back to the forefront of music’s consciousness.