Stories » 7 UK jazz musicians, liberating the genre / The Guardian

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7 UK jazz musicians, liberating the genre / The Guardian

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Shabaka Hutchings is easily one of the most interesting bandleaders of the past decade. He deals in shape-shifting sax and clarinet, but it's his carefree approach to other genres that's established him as a musical outlier who's rattling rigid jazz traditions. His three projects, Shabaka and the Ancestors, Sons of Kemet and The Comet Is Coming – the latter a nominee in the Mercury's "token jazz category", he jokes – are peppered variously with calypso, dub, Afrofuturist beats and hat-tips to Sun Ra, Miles Davis and sweat‑soaked New Orleans party music.

Trumpeter and Gondwana label boss, Matthew Halsall, calls Hutchings "the Kamasi Washington of the UK jazz scene" and it's easy to see why. Hutchings – who is from Birmingham by way of Barbados, where he lived till he was 16 – is a similarly gifted brass player, has a commanding presence, and comes with a penchant for all things cosmic. He is also as ubiquitous, having played with the likes of mid-00s breakthroughs Melt Yourself Down, Ethio-jazz pioneer Mulatu Astatke and Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, on the latter's soundtrack for Paul Thomas Anderson's film The Master.

The fact that Hutchings has "never been completely comfortable with jazz" figures. "When I was younger, I struggled with how to play jazz as the great art form," he says, which is why his music pulls from so many different places instead. "I might be in a regular jazz quartet, and I might want to write something that's complex, [but I'll] rack my brains and come out with something more simple – and maybe that's a bashment bassline." There's plenty of the latter on the new Sons of Kemet album, Your Queen Is a Reptile, which explores dual Caribbean and British identities. Its songs, named after lesser-heralded influential women from history, reject the monarchy, finding new "queens" to celebrate instead – such as Angela Davis and Doreen Lawrence – with Hutchings's sax and clarinet tangled with Theon Cross's tuba and guest MCing from junglist Congo Natty.

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