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Ryuichi Sakamoto, Soweto Kinch, Say She She: Jazz to see us through dark days

The year ahead in jazz is looking bright, with new albums from old favourites and a line-up of live acts for the diary

Ruichi Sakamoto

Ryuichi Sakamoto played what might be his last ever live performance in December. Photo: Andrea Raffin / Alamy

During an interview with GQ Japan in 2020, as coronavirus began to take hold around the world, the Oscar-winning jazz composer Ryuichi Sakamoto offered some words of encouragement: “As a person involved in culture, my only hope is that art, music and poetry have never been interrupted during the 200,000-year history of homo sapiens.” This quote feels no less resonant as we barrel towards what will likely be another year of discord and uncertainty; culture, at least, can be counted on. 

Sakamoto, best known as a founding member of experimental electronic group Yellow Magic Orchestra, as well as for his soundtracks to films like The Last Emperor and The Revenant, will release a new album, 12, in January. He previewed it in December in a moving online solo piano performance which he has indicated may be his last, as he is currently being treated for cancer. The music is sparse and intimate, packing a heavy emotional punch with the lightest touch.

In a similar neo-classical vein, German pianist and composer Lambert will release his first album on heritage jazz label Verve in March. Inspired by a love of Bill Evans and the idea of a smoky, red wine infused ‘jazz lifestyle’, All This Time balances nostalgic, cinematic jazz and classical music with flourishes of his trademark electronic sound. 

Blue Note Records, a fellow heritage label with eyes fixed firmly on the future, are teaming up with cult London venue Total Refreshment Centre in February to release a collection of music reflecting the sound of the streets of East London; everything from new school jazz to dub to drill. The compilation, Transmissions from Total Refreshment Centre, will introduce artists like synth maven Soccer96 and former Jazz Warrior Byron Wallen to the Blue Note canon. Anyone who has ever attended a gig at TRC, including me, will be curious to hear if it’s possible to capture its buzzy spontaneity on record. 

Rather than pushing emerging artists to the fore, Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s Jazz is Dead project invites celebrated masters of jazz and soul to create something entirely new. Over the past two years they’ve released new albums by Gary Bartz, Brian Jackson, Jean Carne, Marcos Valle and Roy Ayers. JID016, released next month, features brand new material from trombonist Phil Ranelin and saxophonist Wendell Harrison, founders of the independent jazz label Tribe Records. Aside from running the label, Harrison and Ranelin have spent their careers performing with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Freddie Hubbard and Sun Ra, as well as running accessible jazz education concerts in their hometown of Detroit. JID016 is as innovative and progressive as we’ve come to expect from Jazz is Dead, and it’s a thrill to picture who might appear next on their roster in 2023. 

Soweto Kinch is another artist who consistently seeks to educate and innovate. In 2022 he released his remarkable White Juju album in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Having debuted the music as part of EFG London Jazz Festival last year, he will be performing it again with the London Symphony Orchestra at London venue Printworks on March 16 before it closes its doors for several years of refurbishment. It’s an urgent, thought-provoking piece and speaks to issues which, three years later, are still pushing buttons. 

On a lighter note, March also will see a favourite 2022 discovery of mine, Say She She, embark on a UK tour. Hailing from Brooklyn, they call their sound ‘discodelia’ – a combination of Rotary Connection-era disco and shimmery psychedelic vocals. Even when covering heavy topics like Roe vs Wade, as in their current single Norma, there is a brightness and optimism to their sound. Their album Prism has been like a shot of vitamin C during these darker months. 

Tom Skinner’s album Voices of Bishara, which I wrote about in November, is also one of my favourites of the year. Skinner is already confirmed for We Out Here’s line-up in August, along with Goldie, Nubya Garcia and Marcos Valle. This year will see the festival move to its new home on a larger site in Devon, hopefully managing to retain its open, friendly community spirit. Love Supreme, now firmly established as one of the best jazz festivals in the country, will celebrate its 10th birthday in July. Taking place as usual in Glynde Place, Sussex, the calibre and variety of acts will no doubt be carefully curated to suit chinstrokers and party animals alike. Their headliners aren’t confirmed yet but Thundercat, Candi Staton and Marcus Miller are already on the bill.

It’s worth remembering that brighter days are just around the corner. 

Deb Grant is a radio host and music critic 

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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