x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Dubai meets London in the Jazz Garden

Over the next week, audiences will find London's thriving live jazz scene transported to the Gulf.

British jazz is arguably enjoying its most vigorous bout of health since the 1980s, when Courtney Pine's Jazz Warriors, the hard bop of Tommy Chase and the club-led acid jazz movement held sway. Since the turn of the century a remarkable new generation of musicians has taken up residence, picking and mixing influences and styles from as broad a range as hip-hop, metal, dance, electronica, classic, world music, rock and pop. The resulting experience is rather like careering through a record store with all the category labels removed.

It's to this effervescent scene - largely centred on London - that the third instalment of Dubai's Jazz Garden festival turns its attention later this month. Over the next week, audiences will find London's thriving live scene transported to the Gulf, with the Neil Cowley trio, Get the Blessing, Soweto Kinch, British-Asian clarinettist Arun Ghosh with his album debut, Northern Namaste, and top-rank singers Ian Shaw and Cleveland Watkiss demonstrating what British jazz is and can be in the 21st century.

Though record labels have found their fortunes falling through the floor with the rise of the mp3 and file-sharing, live music - the original crucible where great jazz has always been heated and transformed into something new - once again dominates the agenda. Ronnie Scott's remains at the centre of Soho's live club scene - and will be hosting a Ronnie Scott's jam session on Wednesday night - while the likes of north London's Vortex, Chelsea's 606 Club and Soho's Pizza Express host a range of music, spanning ear-bending free improvisation to singers steeped in the Great American Songbook.

Both Cowley and Kinch are bringing trios to the Jazz Garden, an ensemble format that is a staple of the contemporary scene. For many its template is drawn no longer from the classic American jazz of the 1940s, 1950s or 1960s, but from Sweden's mighty EST, who weren't afraid to employ arena-style lighting, rock dynamics and heavy electronics in their performances.

Even young American stars such as Blue Note artist Christian Scott sound like they have been listening more to EST and the European scene than anything in New York. Likewise, it is from Europe, and the rock, urban and electronica subcultures of the past few decades, that the new British jazz draws much of its inspiration.

Get the Blessing formed in Bristol in 2000, and comprise Portishead rhythm section Clive Deamer and bassist Jim Barr, with the overpowering brass attack of Pete Judge on trumpet and Jake McMurchie on sax. They fuse the powerful dynamics of rock with the tiered subtleties of jazz. Their latest album, Bugs in Amber, kicks off with a siren and a brass riff that sounds like it's ripping the air in two.

While Cowley and Get the Blessing deliver deeply contrasting styles of instrumental music, saxophonist Kinch's latest album, The New Emancipation, takes on wage slavery, recession, bonus bonanzas and the increasingly narrow vents of escape in 21st-century culture, and combines sharp, intelligent rap with enthralling alto sax playing. Kinch's multilayered musical mosaics are driven by a strong sense of historical context built into its architecture.

"I do feel part of a movement," he says of his own journey into the music, "exploring and appropriating the tradition and finding what's relevant about being British or being black or urban, and telling that story today."

Live with his trio and a rack of loops and effects, he promises freestyle invention and audience engagement to make every performance unique. "I love to freestyle a lot and play it by ear," he says. "Every show's organic, but what will run through it is the message - economic emancipation, political awareness and personal freedom."

Alongside what Cowley calls "this exuberant, youthful new wave of contemporary instrumental music", the dramatic return of vocals is represented in the Garden by Cleveland Watkiss and Ian Shaw, both at the front rank of a distinctive generation of singers winning major awards and devoted audiences.

"I saw Ian Shaw at the BBC Jazz awards a few years ago," says Cowley, "and I found him to be stunning. All you need is people who are passionate about what they do and Ian is certainly that. He'll be great. It'll be a surprise to some people that a Britisher can convey that much emotion."