Nérija alumni illuminate Jazz Re:fest's Brighton Dome bonanza


 SeedEnsemble LWorms 2

Day-trippers pour out of the trains in their hundreds, heading straight for sand and sea in the endless sun. Jazz Re:freshed have taken their sixth celebration of the new scene they've helped catalyse on a seaside break, too, relocating from London's South Bank to Brighton's Dome. This attempt to spread a movement already characterised by its outward focus is rewarded by a crowd of well over a thousand, choosing to swap sunlight for uplift by seven barely-known jazz bands.

"This is not a passive environment," the MC advises, but noon arrivals for Brighton's Vels Trio still stand docilely in light from the stage, like a scene from Close Encounters. Rolling keyboard grooves define an as yet unexceptional band, before Leeds' Gondwana-signed Noya Rao toy with post-techno rhythmic rigidity, and add bossa nova swing to soul vocals. Daniel Casimir's intimate upright-bass solo soon becomes buzzingly propulsive, in a taste of more conventional jazz which joins necessary dots. This Nubya Garcia bandmate is joined by his Escapee EP singer and co-writer Tess Hirst in a warmly organic, if low-key, sound.

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Female collective Nérija are currently in the shade of Garcia's breakout glow, but altoist Cassie Kinoshi, with guitarist Shirley Tetteh and trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey also in tow from that crucial unit, deserves similar success with her 10-piece Seed Ensemble. Their first symphonic jazz piece is named 'The Darkies', in take-that riposte to a resurgence in 1950s-style racism. The next song is dedicated to Grenfell Tower's victims of social schism, with electric keys as the adhesive root to a trumpet's reproachful rise and Kinoshi's modal flight. Tetteh locks into her own time and space between the drums. Then guest poet Zana's searing words of "resounding disgust" match Kate Tempest, before the Afro-futurist redemption of Kinoshi's 'Afro More'. Her undemonstrative command, compositions and quiet ballsiness suggest Seed Ensemble's album will be special.

Yussef Dayes' drumming is a climactic contrast. The muscular tension of his presence and a bass drum like an ogre demanding entry are constants. His snare's dry snap and Senegalese-style percussion, the half-speed drum'n'bass beats and zooming guitar interplay, are virtuosity as visceral force. His string vest and tracksuit bottoms, meanwhile, kiss goodbye to post-war jazz suits. The perils of jamming mean his band's energy sometimes drops, but his charisma never does.

Criticism that this scene isn't groundbreaking enough has credence, as fusion and jazz-funk sometimes seem default positions, lightly dusted by contemporary rhythms. But, as with Love Supreme, the live reality's bliss brooks no argument. From the four-year-old black boy concocting his own complex dance in a corner, to the septuagenarian white jazz faithful digging the new scene from the back rows, and from the young women loving drum solos to the young women playing sax solos, the jazz walls have come tumbling down.

Music which has sometimes been fearfully insular is reawakening as a utopia.

Nick Hasted
– Photos by Lisa Wormsley