Jazz in the City \\ Brighton’s clubs, labels and neo-soul influences set the city apart

25th July 2019
Brighton has the infrastructure to push Jazz forward. Emma Finamore dives into the coastal city’s offerings. 

Words: Emma Finamore

The Brighton music scene is in a pretty exciting place right now – a small city with a diversity of styles overlapping over and into one another – with Jazz and Jazz-adjacent artists taking centre stage. It seems poignant that it’s 20 years ago that Mr Bongo – the Latin, African, Jazz, soul, reggae and psychedelic record store and label – first moved from Soho to Brighton, whilst powerhouse label Tru Thoughts – representing Sly5thAve, Alice Russell and Quantic – also celebrate the same anniversary this year.  

Bongos seems to have paved the way for the city’s current genre-bending Jazz, drawing on a surprising diversity of styles and different musicians all within just a few miles radius. Howes3, for example, take as much influence from LA hip-hop as they do 70s Jazz funk, 80s fusion, 90s RnB and gospel. This Jazz fusion power trio employ rich harmonies, sincere melodies and rhythmic freedom to create their feel-good grooves. 

Neo-soul-meets-Jazz four-piece Yakul are influenced by the likes of J Dilla, future soul quartet Hiatus Kaiyote, D’Angelo  and the Soulquarians – a late-90s neo soul and alternative hip-hop crew, whose members included Dilla, Erykah Badu, Common and Questlove – as well as London’s Rhythm Section. This melting pot of inspirations can be heard all over their deep grooves and Jazz-infused progressions.  

Experimental musicians Vels Trio – with their contagiously frenetic compositions and live sets that energetically engage with the audience – fold in the electrified leanings of prog and Jazz-funk, anchored by a deep back beat. The result is a hip-hop infused reinterpretation of Jazz in the same vein as Thundercat or BadBadNotGood but with a UK twist. Their Jazz Café live rendition of Madlib’s Blue Note Records album, ‘Shades of Blue’, and collaborations with the likes of Shabaka Hutchings, show how they’re putting Brighton Jazz on the national map. 

Rapper, songwriter, producer and DJ Madaliso – who’s played onstage with fellow Brighton-ers Yakul at Jazz Cafe – was born and raised in Rome but currently brings his adventures in lo-fi Jazz-tinged soulful instrumentation to the Sussex town’s music scene. In terms of a more electronic direction, experimental producers (and live band) Luo have been breaking genre boundaries for years – their Jazz-tinged percussion nodding to Flying Lotus and Massive Attack – while MC Benaddict – also a producer under his psalm/trees moniker, and a member of Brighton label and collective, Yogocop – makes boom bap records with a UK hip-hop and jazz-ish edge, mellow and sunshiney, as if the essence of Brighton has seeped into the bars.  

Like any city, the infrastructure supporting this scene is vital. New Generation Jazz is an Arts Council supported project that helps introduce young people in Brighton and the South-East to Jazz and demonstrate what a vital, living tradition it is today, instrumental in bringing artists like Ife Ogunjobi and Steam Down to Brighton’s venues and festivals, introducing them to the town’s young people.

The project holds monthly nights at the small but perfectly formed Verdict Jazz Clubnamed one of the top 10 Jazz clubs in Europe by The Guardianfeaturing up and coming artists spanning a wide spectrum of Jazz, and jazz-adjacent music. Soulace at The Brunswick also platforms Jazz artists, and features an open mic jam after the main act, giving new talents the chance to build experience and a fan base.

Love Supreme festival plays a big part in bringing exciting new UK Jazz and Jazz-ish sounds to the city’s fringes, which in 2019, hosted acts like Theon Cross, Maisha, Joe Armon-Jones, Steam Down Collective, Skinny Pelembe, Tenderlonious, Seed Ensemble, Kamaal Williams, Snazzback, Wonky Logic and Tomorrow’s Warriors

The long-running Kemp Town Carnival – originally a fancy dress pub crawl across Kemptown that ran from the mid-70s until 1989, becoming a community carnival in the mid-90s – also plays a part in the city’s musical landscape. New Generation Jazz have a stage here celebrating Jazz, bringing people like Yadasofi, making hard-bop inspired Jazz, fusing elements of Afrobeat and middle eastern desert Jazz – to the city’s streets. 

Take a dive into Brighton’s Jazz and Jazz-adjacent sounds by starting with the tracks below. 

\\ Howes3 – Moving Forward 

Don’t be fooled by the warm, mellow intro (beautiful as it is) – this track gives way to an infectious, driving groove, a supremely funky bassline and truly cosmic keys solo midway through – with fizzing percussion glittering above – before artfully swinging back into a more soulful vibe. ‘Moving Forward’ demonstrates a knack for traversing neo soul and Jazz, but also an ability to dart seamlessly between improv and set pieces, and between different atmospheres, seemingly effortlessly. 

\\ Yakul – Blossoming

Here, Yakul carry through the neo soul vocals and sentiment that got them noticed with ‘Realigned’, but fold in more Jazz-leaning instrumentation, lending it a more experimental edge – think an upbeat horns section punching through the romantic verses, a rolling almost-drum solo, and an inventive switching up and down of tempo.  There’s funky guitar here too, what sounds like Granddaddy-esque fluttering clarinet, even a bit of cowbell. Yakul aren’t afraid to experiment, and they have the skill to hold everything together in a coherent, compelling whole. 

\\ Vels Trio x Shabacka Hutchings40 Point

This sizzling collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Shabaka Hutchings is taken from 2017’s ‘Yellow Ochre’ EP, a project drawing on the hip-hop of Dilla and Doom as well as a knack for fusion straight out of the Lonnie Liston Smith playbook. Clever use of instrumentation creates the effect of cosmic synth sounds darting over and through free-flowing Jazz, Hutchings’ sax and the frantic keys helping to power the track to a bubbling crescendo. Vels Trio’s more recent ‘The Wad’ – a pysche-fuelled electronic groover of a track, with a deep buried bassline that gets into your bones once you tune into it – is also brilliant. Make that your next stop. 

\\ Benaddict – Shades Of You

Definitely more on the Jazz-adjacent side of things, this UK hip-hop cut features warm, glowing keys, lilting, delicate brass and organic, analogue feeling samples melded together with a soulful refrain. MC Benaddict spits bars in the vein of Jehst or Skinnyman, his tones contrasting with the smooth vocals he’s spliced with the beat in his producer role as psalm/trees (along with FloFilz), making for an interesting blend of sounds. The instrumental version of this track is a chilled-out dream – perfect for watching the sun set over the horizon from Brighton beach. 

Special credit goes to Yakul for providing essential insight for this piece.

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