The rise of Kamasi Washington and his 3-volume album “The Epic” marked an interesting point in the recent jazz history. Suddenly, a niche in jazz that for a long time was overshadowed by pretty much everything else came into a spotlight as if it was 1960s back again, when John Coltrane released his masterpiece “The Love Supreme”. More and more jazz musicians started exploring this once forgotten land, where the divine meets spontaneity, expressiveness, and eclecticism. As the result, Stingray DJAZZ picks 5 spiritual UK jazz acts to watch for in 2019.
Coming out from London, United Kingdom, Maisha is one of the most recent ensembles that perform spiritually inspired music. Drawing influences from the music of Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, as well as West African and Afro-Beat rhythms, the act released their debut EP “Welcome To A New Welcome” in 2016 under The Jazz re:freshed record label, which gained critical recognition in UK jazz circles for innovative approach towards jazz music. During the group’s short existence, Maisha has already been featured on a number of Gilles Peterson radio shows, while their live set on Boiler Room London sessions attracted a lot of attention, too. Led by the drummer Jake Long, Maisha also features one of the biggest raising jazz stars - saxophonist Nubya Garcia.
The prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama graduate, one of the central figures in London jazz scene Shabaka Hutchings can be epitomized as the english version of Kamasi Washington. The virtuoso saxophonist, composer, and musical leader, Hutchings has been exploring the spirituality aspect in jazz via most of his musical projects: Sons of Kemet, The Comet is Coming, as well as Shabaka And The Ancestors. His sound has been inspired by many elements found across African continent, yet the underlying spiritual theme is undeniably present throughout Hutchings music, whether it is an album’s name, its cover art, the name or even the lineup of a given musical project.
Gondwana records, the label behind artists such as GoGo Penguin, Portico Quartet, or Stuff, is run by the trumpeter Matthew Halsall, who himself is probably the most spiritually sounding trumpeter on the jazz map right now. His music has this mesmerizing atmosphere that blends less conventional instruments such as a harp, or flute, together with distinct percussive sounds, slow tempos, and modality. Halsall isn’t the technical trumpet player. He certainly lacks flashiness and virtuosic bravado associated with many post 1940s jazz trumpeters. Yet, none of it is missing from Halsall’s playing style, since the type of jazz played by him has its roots in different qualities of life: calmness, mindfulness, and above all - spiritualness.
Jazz singers occupy a very special place among the overall spectrum of jazz musicians. While the majority tend to perform jazz-related classic 1930s sounding repertoire (e.g. old jazz standards), and only a few have the skills to engage with the more complex and contemporary sounding compositions. Dwight Trible is definitely one of the latter, as through the years the LA born and now UK based singer shaped a unique and spiritually saturated sound. Having performed with artists, such as Pharoah Sanders and Kamasi Washington, Trible is perhaps the only true spiritual jazz singer out there at the moment, which gives him a cult status among many jazz fans as well as like-minded musicians.
One of the lesser known spiritual jazz musicians on the list, Nat Birchall, released his first spiritual jazz record in 1999. Ever since, the saxophonist has been an active member of the UK jazz community. His latest release “Cosmic Language” (Jazzman Records, 2018) combines the already established spiritual jazz elements with classical Indian music, meditation, as well as his favorite instrument - harmonium. Yet, it is the small pump up organ that really defines the sound of Brichall’s music at this moment, giving it Zen-like atmosphere and filling it with the particular energy, which can only be found among classic spiritual jazz musicians, such as Alice Coltrane or Pharoah Sanders.