10 Essential Jazz Albums By London Musicians

From Nubya Garcia to Sons Of Kemet, expect nothing but British jazz greatness.

Zara McFarlane / Photography bt Jennifer McCord
Zara McFarlane / Photography bt Jennifer McCord

At some point in the last twelve months, chances are you've heard, seen or read something about the new wave of British jazz. Across the capital and beyond, a new generation of trumpet players, saxophonists and singers have revolutionised what we think of as jazz, and how we think about the people who listen to it.

No longer the preserve of older, middle-class audiences, UK jazz embraces its youth, drawing on grime, dub, reggae, bashment, Afrobeats and more to create a vital new sound. The response has been extraordinary, with artists such as Kamaal Williams landing Top 10 hits and Ezra Collective hitting the top of BBC Radio 1's Hype Charts. Whether it's Sons Of Kemet at the Mercurys, Moses Boyd's residency on BBC Radio 1Xtra, or any of the countless shows these musicians have been playing across London and beyond, it's been hard to avoid the revolution.

Praised for its accessibility, for new listeners wanting to break into this new movement, there's still a daunting amount of music to digest. That's no fault of those making it—most of whom have been laying the foundations of today's renaissance since their early teens—it's just the nature of jazz, with bands and individual members constantly working on new projects. 

2019 looks set to be the scene's biggest year yet, so we decided to collate the 10 essential London jazz albums to serve as a primer on the sound and its origins. Dig in below.


Nubya Garcia – ‘Nubya’s 5ive’

Nubya Garcia (credit: Foxy Neela)

Any set in Jazz Re:freshed's 5ive series is well worth your time, but if you're going to listen to just one, it should be Nubya Garcia's. A saxophone player in the bands Nerija and Maisha, as well as a regular collaborator with Moses Boyd and Ezra Collective's Joe Armon-Jones, Garcia is a pillar of London's jazz scene and her solo debut, Nubya's 5ive, is all the proof you need. Featuring many of the names on this list, it's a short but sweet introduction to Garcia's saxophone playing. At times grooved out and at others intensely out-there, Nubya's 5ive is just as likely to burst into a run of free jazz solos as it is to lock into a head-nodding groove courtesy of Boyd or Femi Koleoso. Above it all, Garcia's sax reigns supreme, guiding the group out of dense passages of improvisation and into soaring hooks that have the power to make you levitate.

Yussef Kamaal – ‘Black Focus’

Yussef Kamaal (credit: Larissa Araz)

Yussef Kamaal, the collaborative project of keyboardist Kamaal Williams and drummer Yussef Dayes ​​​​​,​ combined jazz with funk and Williams' background in Peckham's club scene to startling effect on Black Focus, creating a sublime album that's at once extraordinarily chill and intensely danceable. From start to finish this album is near flawless, though second track "Strings Of Light" stands alone in the story of London jazz thanks to a now-legendary freestyle over the beat by the grime MC Mez, marking one of the first collaborations between a grime artist and a London jazz act. Though the pair have since parted ways, both remain essential figures in UK jazz.

United Vibrations – ‘Galaxies Not Ghettos’

United Vibrations

Ask most of the players in today's London jazz scene, and they'll tell you that they came up listening to United Vibrations. Led by Yussef Dayes, the South London four-piece were pushing the boundaries of jazz in London long before documentaries were being made about it. Galaxies Not Ghetto is the group's cosmic-minded debut, which helped cement Dayes as a key figure in London jazz's progression. Highlights here include "No Space No Time", a shout-along slice of philosophy, as well as "Ra! Part Two", a soulful R&B cut with a subtle 2-step influence. Packed with moments of intense experimentation, Galaxies Not Ghetto remains a vital piece of the London jazz story.

Moses Boyd – ‘Displaced Diaspora’

Moses Boyd (credit: Daniele Zappalà)

Moses Boyd is involved in more bands and projects than we have room to list in this article, but it's his debut solo album, Displaced Diaspora, that serves as the purest example of his youthful take on jazz. Created with a little help from Four Tet and Floating Points, the LP's lead single "Rye Lane Shuffle" became a club anthem overnight. Written to echo the sound of Peckham's Rye Lane at night, it's a busy, constantly moving track that still lights up dancefloors nearly three years on. A standout on an album full of highlights and key players, it's rivalled only by "Waiting On The Night Bus", a smooth, '90s hip-hop tinged ballad featuring Terri Walker and Louis VI.

Sons Of Kemet – ‘Your Queen Is A Reptile’

Sons Of Kemet (credit: Pierrick Guidou)

Sons Of Kemet are the elder-statesmen of LDN jazz. Comprised of drummers Tom Skinner and Eddie Hick, tuba player Theon Cross and saxophonist/bandleader Shabaka Hutchings, Sons Of Kemet are still in their thirties but have been making some of the most pioneering music in the city—together and solo—for almost a decade. Your Queen Is A Reptile earned them a Mercury Prize nomination and a place on the iconic jazz label Impulse! Records. Made up of a series of bombastic, high-energy tracks, each named after an alternative black queen—i.e. "My Queen Is Harriet Tubman"—it's a takedown of colonialism and the monarchy that still slaps, despite the heavy subject matter. Jungle legend Congo Natty pops up on "My Queen Is Mamie Phipps Clark" to lend some psychedelic dub flavour that will blow your speakers apart. 

Jazz Warriors – ‘Out Of Many, One People’

Gary Crosby (Jazz Warriors)

London jazz wouldn't exist in its current form without Jazz Warriors. Bassist Gary Crosby and his wife, Janine Irons, are the founders of Tomorrow's Warriors, the scheme that mentored the likes of Moses Boyd, Theon Cross, Ezra Collective, Nubya Garcia and nearly any other player you could care to name. While Crosby isn't the principal bassist on Out Of Many, One People, Jazz Warriors' only album still serves as the foundation of UK jazz's dissection of colonialism, and saxophonist Courtney Pine's approach to jazz has shaped the outlook of many new-school musicians. 

Zara McFarlane – ‘Arise’

Zara McFarlane

If UK jazz has a voice, it belongs to Zara McFarlane. A scene stalwart, McFarlane doesn't always receive the same attention as her instrument-yielding peers, but she is absolutely as key to the scene's success as any of them. Another regular collaborator with Boyd et al., and a MOBO award-winner in her own right, Zara McFarlane is one of the few vocalists in London's jazz revival. Her sound—while more 'trad' than her peers—brings in dub and reggae, and the combination of her old-school, Fitzgerald-esque vocals with the modern production of her third album, Arise, makes it an essential part of the evolution of UK jazz. "Fussin' And Fightin'" is brooding, slickly put-together and packed with drama.

Various – ‘We Out Here’

Gilles Peterson

Over the years, Gilles Peterson has done a lot for the British jazz scene so it makes sense that his label, Brownswood, would play host to a genre-defining compilation like We Out Here. Overseen by Shabaka Hutchings, the 9-track album serves as a who's-who of London jazz with Moses Boyd, Theon Cross and Nubya Garcia all featuring, as well as Ezra Collective and Hutchings himself. However, one track from We Out Here has gone on to outshine them all—KOKOROKO's "Abusey Junction", which is probably the biggest track in the scene right now. Led by Sheila Maurice-Grey, it is currently sat on 20 million plays just on YouTube alone. A perfectly smooth seven minutes of meandering guitars, delicate polyrhythms and uplifting horns, it's the standout track on a record that will define London jazz for years to come.

SEED Ensemble – ‘Driftglass’

SEED Ensemble

Driftglass is barely three months old, but it has rightfully earned its place in this list. The debut album from SEED Ensemble, the group led by sax player Cassie Kinoshi and featuring members of KOKOROKO, Ezra Collective and more, Driftglass is a blistering debut that tackles race relations and Grenfell to name just a few of the topics. Album opener "The Darkies" is an ominous, almost cinematic track while "Afronaut" and "Stargaze" (parts one and two) propel the record forward, XANA's vocal on the former blurring the line between spoken word and spitting bars. It's "WAKE (For Grenfell)" that sits at the core of the project, though. An inevitably politically-charged track that opens with stomping feet and a single, defiant horn, it becomes a group-sung memorial to the victims of the tragic fire. Half-funeral track, half-protest anthem, it's a shining example of London jazz's importance in giving a voice to young musicians in the capital.

Alfa Mist – ‘Antiphon’

Alfa Mist

Producer and keys player Alfa Mist is where the London jazz scene meets the rap world. You may recognise the name from his work with the likes of Loyle Carner, Jordan Rakei, Barney Artist and Tom Misch, but it's his debut album, Antiphon, that solidified his reputation within the jazz arena. Inspired by conversations with his brothers, Alfa Mist combines virtuoso keys playing with '90s boom-bap percussion and a blissed-out aesthetic. Sampled passages of speech mingle with an ensemble of Alfa's peers, his piano sat at the core of it all. The result is an album that's equally at home in your headphones on the bus home or gently rolling out of the speakers on a sunny day in London Fields.

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