Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival: Our Top Five

This year’s Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival is shaping up to be one of the most hotly anticipated in years; we select our top picks for the ten-day festival

Preview by Michael Lawson | 28 Jun 2019

2018 was something of a landmark year for British jazz. We Out Here, a nine-track compilation released on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings imprint, introduced the blossoming London jazz scene to a youthful new audience more in tune with club culture. The Guardian ran an extensive feature inviting its readers to "meet the [jazz] musicians rewriting the rulebook", while Your Queen Is a Reptile, the third studio album from Mercury Prize-nominated four-piece Sons of Kemet, finished the year at number one on The Wire’s Top 50 Albums of 2018 list – hailed by music journalist and jazz buff Phil Freeman as a "musical juggernaut designed to hammer home the black immigrant experience."

With things showing no signs of letting up in 2019, this year’s Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival is shaping up to be one of the most hotly anticipated in years. Established in 1978 by banjo player and guitarist Mike Hart, the festival has evolved somewhat over the past four decades; with that in mind, we take a closer look at this year's impressive Cross the Tracks strand selecting our top picks for the ten-day festival.

Sons of Kemet

Led by visionary saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, Sons of Kemet are arguably the most important band in jazz today. Drawing on his Barbadian heritage, Hutchings throws a number of Caribbean rhythms into the melting pot, with the aforementioned Your Queen Is a Reptile LP carving out a new, intrinsically political path that transcends any kind of musical boundary. "I read and think a lot about my positionality within British society from a post-colonial perspective and my artistic license gives me a chance to allow visibility to concepts and ways of seeing/being which might be considered unorthodox to the general public," is how Hutchings articulated the complex themes underpinning the album to us.

Sons of Kemet play George Square Spiegeltent, 14 Jul, 8.30pm

Nubiyan Twist

Much like Sons of Kemet, Nubiyan Twist represent the new school of British jazz, drawing on everything from soul and reggae to hip-hop and modern dance music – yet still finding a way to conjure up something quintessentially British. Boasting a ten-piece live band that includes a four-piece horn section, two vocalists, electronics and an international rhythm section, the Leeds-born, London-based collective might just be the most striking live act you see this year. 

Nubiyan Twist play George Square Spiegeltent, 13 Jul, 10pm

Moses Boyd Exodus

Two-time MOBO winner Moses Boyd is another artist at the jazz vanguard, harnessing the raw energy of grime, bashment and jungle to create a style of music with serious street appeal. A drummer, composer and producer, he's collaborated with everyone from Gilles Peterson and Lonnie Liston Smith to Four Tet and Little Simz, while also recently taking up a residency with BBC Radio 1Xtra. Breakout hit Rye Lane Shuffle has proven to be just as adept being played at peak time by DJs in clubs as it is performed by a band in a jazz bar, further emphasising the cross-genre appeal of Boyd’s sound.

Moses Boyd Exodus play George Square Spiegeltent, 19 Jul, 7.30pm

Ibibio Sound Machine

Fronted by Nigerian singer Eno Williams, Ibibio Sound Machine gloriously blend elements of post-punk and electro with West African funk and disco. Reviewing latest album Doko Mien, released back in March, The Guardian wrote: "Ibibio Sound Machine’s trademark sound – a groove-driven melange of styles which also takes in gospel, funk, post and electro-punk and contemporary R'n'B, alongside African polyrhythms, horns and guitar – is lively and luxurious enough for the eight-piece outfit to pursue next-level popularity with their third album." Ibibio Sound Machine play George Square Spiegeltent, 18 Jul, 9pm

The New Wave of Scottish Jazz: Graham Costello's STRATA, Matt Carmichael Quartet

Things are looking similarly rosy north of the border, with boundary-pushing sextet Graham Costello’s STRATA doing their best to turn Glasgow into an unlikely jazz hotbed. Costello, a drummer, composer, visual artist and graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, formed STRATA in an attempt to bridge the gap between the DIY and jazz scenes of his hometown.

Reviewing their latest album OBELISK, released at the start of the year, we wrote: "Although the bombastic but groove-laden moments could easily become overwhelming, there’s just enough variation in tempo to make sure that the listener can catch their breath. Filled with texture, OBELISK is an hour-long journey that demonstrates all of the most gripping aspects of a rising ensemble." Meanwhile, fellow Scots prodigal talent comes in the form of the Matt Carmichael Quartet, with 20-year-old saxophonist Carmichael already demonstrating his folk-influenced prowess on last year’s eponymous debut EP. 

The New Wave of Scottish Jazz takes place at Teviot Row, 13 Jul, 7pm

The Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival takes place across various venues in Edinburgh from 12-21 Jul http://edinburghjazzfestival.com