The British jazz scene is fertile. From Kamaal Williams to Sons of Kemet to The Comet Is Coming and more (seriously, this list could go on for a while), the UK has had a blistering streak, producing not only some of the jazz records and performers most convincing contemporaries. but also its most vibrant contemporary. You see, jazz has always had a conservative impulse problem; for music grounded in living on the cutting edge of improvisational music, it can often call upon codified approaches and endless retrospective self-congratulation. (It’s true that it’s a genre with a lot to be congratulated on.) This scene in particular, like the decampment of the genre of Kamasi Washington and Thundercat in the United States, is as much interested in contemporary forms of jazz strung through hip-hop, R&B, progressive and psychedelic and electronic music as it is in mainstream idioms. There is not only the power of youth but also the present moment well anchored in these players.
So it’s not a big shock that Renaissance, keyboardist DoomCannon’s debut record as a bandleader, would immediately delight. He wastes no time in these compositions establishing a mood, opening with a jazzy, sultry R&B jam that feels as much intended for bedrooms as it is for headphones and hi-fi stereo systems. It’s a testament to the ears of those musicians who, though absolutely dripping with chops, still remain mindful of the intentions of jazz as a form, which is to be playful while conveying melody and active energy- tense. These pieces feel playas in the way a child plays, full of delight and joy and enjoyment; there is never the feeling of a performance over the phone or of being so rigidly aligned with the underlying progression or the formal constraints around them that it becomes a practice rather than a game.
Tracks like “Uncovering Truth” and “Amalgamation” show the band playing at odd times, especially the 5/4 jazzer’s favorite, but mostly without the sense of it being contrived or mathematical. These types of moods and approaches to odd moments are certainly not inherently bad, but it’s a testament to the strength of these players that it always and always sounds musical, so those who aren’t inclined to count the subdivisions of what is played wouldn’t necessarily feel that dizzying sensation that comes from the more technical and progressive wing of the musical landscape. There’s even, to touch on technical language briefly, a dizzying subdivision of what amounts to 6/4 on one of these tracks with a variety of odd groups on the sixteenth note grid, numbers crazy enough to make your mouth water. any drummer. If this phrase doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry; the overriding feel of this passage is one of lively melodic interest driven by piano and guitar and encouraged by horns, not the mathematical contortions below. This kind of balance is extremely difficult, measuring both the muso impulse of deeply stimulating changes and rhythms against an immediate sense of melody, that what is being played is a song and not a glorified practice regimen, a DoomCannon leads her band competently with seemingly no effort.
The record, in turn, although largely instrumental, is not without political or social impetus either. The closing diptych of “Black Liberation Prologue” and “Black Liberation” sees its first movement expressed through a sample of a short speech on the universal struggle for black rights and security, political agency and social presence, that pervades the whole world. It also doesn’t feel flattering or like a cheap add-on; the sense is more of a return to the enduring sense of social spirit that jazz had long enjoyed in its heyday, especially once you get away from the riverboats full of mostly white diners and tourists and the clubs of swing with white bandleaders leading predominantly black bands for white dance audiences. There is not an overwhelming focus on explicitly political issues on Renaissance, but by ending on this note, especially with such a meditative second movement after the marked discourse of the first, one feels closer to an acknowledgment of an ongoing struggle in the presence of joy. Because, to be clear, that’s what the overwhelming majority of this material is: black joy.
The sounds present here range from neo-soul to math rock, from smooth jazz to fierce fusion, J Dilla and Tony Williams. Records like this remind us of the power of jazz as a living force, not doomed to the annals of history and its records of influential works by long-deceased performers. He also works to save jazz from the scourge of, in a way, certain modes of free jazz favored by fans of extreme music (be it metal, punk, industrial or electronic), where the seemingly singular method is free and wild. improvisation. Renaissance is, like its peers from this current movement within jazz, an image of jazz both liberated from its history and the form it takes for those who are plugged in but ultimately outside the walls of jazz , but without denigrating the value produced by those spaces either. There are certain moments of increasing density on this record that recall the sonic density achieved most effectively by free improvisation artists; likewise, there are restrained formal drills that demonstrate a clear mastery of ballads and cannon-smoldering bop workouts.
But, these formal relations aside, the most important element of this disc: it is sexy, something less common in the increasingly intellectual sphere of artful jazz music, but which feels like a necessary comeback. The vast majority of these tracks could be played deftly alongside the Silent Storm and ’90s R&B greats, bridging the gap between Sade and Luther Vandross and Mint Condition as much as being played between Eberhard Weber and Nik Bartsch. It is also a testament to the power of the scene from which it emerged and the musicians within it, offering us another view of what seems to be an almost endless abundance of deeply compelling and profoundly human musical work in the idiom. jazz. It’s the kind of record that makes you feel lucky to be here now, maybe the most important thing a record can do.