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Fact Check: How the jazz-dance underground broke into the London jazz mainstream – Features

By Steve Heldon

As a founding member of group Ezra Collective, Armon-Jones has become a key proponent of a new generation of London jazz players who have popularised the genre over the past five years with their blend of diaspora musical cultures and improvisation. It is an open-eared approach that has led Armon-Jones to recently collaborate with everyone from reggae singer Asheber to broken beat producer Owin, bringing his live show to festival stages like London’s Cross the Tracks, as well as traditionalist venues like Ronnie Scott’s.

Yet, writer and broadcaster Emma Warren traces this communion between improvised music and club spaces further back than Armon-Jones and the recent London jazz scene. “There’s long been histories of jazz dancing in the UK, from Manchester’s Foot Patrol crew dancing jazz fusion to early house records, to groups like IDJ performing with live bands,” she says. “The Printworks show is now a landmark moment to bring London’s histories of live musicians and dancers together.”

More than just a space for movement, Warren sees the dancefloor as something of a sacred place. “Improvisation is community activity, as the saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi once told me, and the dancefloor is a place of real communion,” she says. “They go hand-in-hand and dancefloors ultimately allow us to perform that most basic of human needs: moving to music together in the dark.”

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With other acts billed for the London Jazz Festival like British trumpeter Emma-Jean Thackray and Chicago multi-instrumentalist Ben LaMar Gay each performing their own mixes of electronics and jazz instrumentation, it seems blurring genre boundaries and spaces of performance is becoming an integral component of the capital’s biggest jazz showcase.

“Some people will always think, ‘this isn’t jazz’, but the nature of the music is to be open and free – there is no formula,” Opcin says. “When Miles Davis went electric he got backlash and when Herbie Hancock incorporated hip hop he did too. The vital element is to keep experimenting.”

Cawthorne now hopes to carry this experimental mantle squarely to the Printworks floor. “I’m DJing but I’ll bring my flute along and see what we can do live on the night too,” he smiles. “It’s all about responding to the moment, no matter where you are or who you’re playing to.”

Ammar Kalia is a freelance writer, follow him on Twitter

Source: Healthy Duck.