As has been the case for several years, jazz in 2012 looks set to be dominated by the pianist. In 2011 Gwilym Simcocks’s Mercury nomination for solo piano effort ‘Good Days at Schloss Elmau’ was trumped by Kairos 4tet winning a MOBO award for Best Jazz Act with sophomore album ‘Statement of Intent’. The award cemented their status as the breakthrough UK jazz stars of the year. January brings exciting new releases from some established Brits. First among these is ‘The Face of Mount Molehill’ , another collection of excitable jazz-rock from the Neil Cowley Trio, this time with Mama’s Gun bassist Rex Horan and a string section complementing Cowley’s groove-led piano riffs. The trio and Mount Molehill Strings are at The Venue in Leeds on March 24th. A week later sees new material out from Courtney Pine collaborator Zoe Rahman, who is garnering rave reviews for what is sounding like her most complete album to date. ‘Kindred Spirits’, featuring collaborations with her brother on clarinet, could get her another Mercury nomination and will be accompanied by a tour that reaches Wakefield Jazz on Jan 20th and Seven Arts in Leeds on Feb 2nd. Also in contention will be my most wanted album of the year – the self-titled third by the new-look Portico Quartet. The group have embraced electronics and the once dominant sound of Nick Mulvey’s hang (a 21st-century steel idiophone) has been replaced by Keir Vine’s sensitive playing, which is nicely balanced amidst the bass, tenor sax and a newfound appreciation for grooves. Look out for the group at The Duchess, York on 6th March.
Across the Atlantic, big things are expected of Robert Glasper after he caught the attention of wider audiences with a series of inspired Radiohead, Little Dragon and Nirvana covers, performed with his new Experiment ensemble. Their debut ‘Black Radio’ features Bilal, Erykah Badu and Mos Def, amongst other notable soul-jazz guest spots. It is set to be the crossover album of the year; the hip-hop, soul and rock stylings underpinned throughout by Glasper’s magnificent Rhodes improvisation.
It is set to be an exciting year for Toronto trio Bad Bad Not Good. Formally known as Odd Trio for their compelling prog-jazz reshaping of the Odd Future back catalogue, their star has risen thanks to Tyler the Creator’s interest in the online video of ‘Odd Medley’. Now wildly experimenting with their own compositions, expect another mix tape shortly.
Finally, to one of the most interesting artists in the UK: Trinidad-born poet, novelist, lecturer and musician Anthony Joseph. Joseph has recently released ‘Rubber Orchestras’, and an accompanying collection of poetry of the same name. His music is formed around his poetry, drawing comparisons with the godfather of protest music, the late Gil Scott-Heron. Scott-Heron’s influence is also audible in the jazz-funk backing of Joseph’s Spasm Band, who also reach out to Western rock, afrobeat, soca, calypso, reggae and Hendrix in their electrifying compositions. It may not be conventional, but as an alto sax warbles over another unstoppable groove, you will find yourself hooked on Joseph’s hypnotic sound.By Benedick Gibson