As explained in their interview previously featured on culturised, Jazz Plus Productions seek to push people’s conception of jazz beyond what they consider to be a stale and generic misinterpretation. That is to say, many listeners perceive jazz as background music for cocktails in classy, low-lit bars as opposed to music which gets you moving. To this end, apart from running their own record label, they also put on various gigs to highlight artists which epitomise aspects of what they believe the genre should be. One such gig took place recently at Notting Hill Arts Club at which two artists with quite different styles, of which Jackson will be the focus here, took the stage to showcase what Jazz Plus Productions mean when they say they want to “uproot the UK jazz scene.”
The first thing to note is that the gig definitely succeeded in terms of not coming across as your smoky bar background cliché. In part this is because, without wishing to sound too much older than my twenty-three years, it was very loud throughout. This is generally not a problem when it comes to live music; too often I have been at gigs where the sound of other members of the crowd’s conversations or movements have been distractingly audible. That said this was less appropriate during Laark’s set since it was too early on in the night for the crowd to be dancing but too loud for them to be doing anything else. This sounds like a criticism but in fact I liked what I heard from Laark, at this point however most of the crowd were sat in the adjunct bar area and straining to hear each other speak. Perhaps this set would have been better placed after Jackson when the audience might have been ready to focus more on the music.
Jackson perform as a seven piece and it is clear that as individuals they are all immensely capable instrumentalists. The keys, guitar, drums, bass, trombone, sax and – interestingly – turntable, were all played immaculately and there were plenty of opportunities during some of the longer, jammier numbers for them to cut loose. Jackson were strongest during these longer cuts where the band took turns soloing over one of the more stripped back grooves. The previously mentioned volume was a part of this, Notting Hill Arts Club is a small venue and at such high decibel counts having so many players in such a small space meant some of the instruments were inevitably lost in the mix for extended sections. However, the best moments were undeniably funky and the enjoyment was plain to see amongst both the band and the audience.
Characterising Jackson is a tricky thing to do. In their description on the Arts Club website they are said to bring moody singer-songwriter lyricism to the table, and earlier on in the set this took centre stage: this was an interesting sound to hear at a gig which is billed as being broadly under the umbrella of jazz. Throughout the set there were touchstones of funk, R&B, pop, and (for brief flashes) even metal. The way that this was all brought together with some snappy sudden beat and tempo changes gave, in the least negative way possible, vibes of prog. Trying to describe parts of the set, I reached for a comparison to other artists; the best I could come up with was Alexander O’Neal meets Maybeshewill via King Crimson, though that would almost certainly give the wrong impression to anyone who hadn’t heard Jackson and this hard-to-define band must be heard to be understood.
The point though is that while I can see how jazz certainly featured, it was the funk and R&B elements which shone through the most, to me at least. This is no bad thing necessarily; after all, confounding traditional expectations of the genre is part of Jazz Plus’s appeal. As Charles Price, one of the company’s founders said in their aforementioned interview with culturised: “There’s so much music that, if you trace it back, gets to jazz. I think people don’t realise that at the moment: they just see jazz as one thing.” Perhaps this is more reflective of the fact that it is not only jazz that falls victim to a wider problem of generic discussion. Genres are often used lazily to group music, and this is frequently a tool of those who would wish to denigrate by association music they don’t appreciate. It is therefore pleasing to see (and hear) promoters and artists who play with these notions and use them as tools to allow a wider, as opposed to more proscriptive, palette of sounds. After all, as Lou Reed once apocryphally said: “if it has more than three chords, it’s jazz.”