UK top 10 jazz labels - ranked

A salute to all those UK indie label jazzheads in recordland who continue to venture down the jazz side of the road. Yes, it's our latest, greatest, least dated snapshot of top UK jazz labels. A few observations - the main heart of the UK jazz label …

Published: 12 Apr 2024. Updated: 33 days.

A salute to all those UK indie label jazzheads in recordland who continue to venture down the jazz side of the road. Yes, it's our latest, greatest, least dated snapshot of top UK jazz labels. A few observations - the main heart of the UK jazz label sector isn't about major labels, the Warners, Sonys, Universals of this world who do not feed into the grassroots scene anywhere nearly as effectively as the battle weary indie labels do. UK jazz indies are small businesses and have more in common with a neighbourhood restaurant that may hopefully have a decent turnover but can just as easily have its ups and downs. Like when the chef gets overly creative with the cleaver or the sommelier has somehow lost his inner schmooze, the essential role of serving the community with music for the soul can get waylaid a bit.

More jazzers than in The Archers? Nostalgia ain't what it used to be - the curse of the 1980s strikes again, perhaps. But more than any kind of Harvey and or assorted Wallbangers for that matter - cocktail, musical troupe or corporate vehicle can entertain - the indie label jazz scene role presence in London, Birmingham, Bristol - ooh aah ooh aah wherever in the shires - Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast is vital.

Indies' human size, the 2024 variety, is their superpower. Some are more professional than others. But professionalism, particularly of the overly slick variety, doesn't mean that they are necessarily (or even at all) better. Even long established labels go through spells of uninspired A&R longueur. The most switched on Dog and Duck denizen on any given drizzly Tuesday night sheltering before heading over to the spiritual home of the UK scene thriving on a riff Ron and on nearby over on Frith certainly knows that.


We have selected the 10 best at the moment from a far larger pool and big up to all 'nuff said who dally down the jazz side of the road on a daily basis - putting out jazz that feeds the soul. Check out all you children of the 80s The Sisterhood drawn Rickie Lee Jones homage of the same name, handily - click play to get you in the mood.


LABELS

Awen Ensemble debuting with Cadair Idris blew us away this spring. Leeds based self-described as an ''alternative folk jazz collective'' the word ''Awen'' in their name means ''poetic inspiration'' in Welsh. It would, wouldn't it - ''travelling like a stranger in the night, all along the ancient highway'' in another Celtic heartbeat as the poet put it. But Amy Clark's vocals land somewhere between the sound of early period Christine Tobin particularly a song like 'Those Who Love the Lord' on Aililiu (Babel, 2001) and Lauren Kinsella in Snowpoet guise as on Thought You Knew (Edition, 2018) with Chris Hyson et al. Their album takes its name from a mythology rich peak of Snowdonia. London label New Soil has also issued new work by Jake Long of Maisha renown and the latest from the very credible Ill Considered.

Matt Halsall's spiritual jazz loving Manchester label goes from strength to strength with new work from saxist Jasmine Myra in the vanguard.

Kudos galore for the hardy long running BBE Music - BBE stands for ''barely breaking even'' - with the best work to date from Alina Bzhezhinska and Tony Kofi on Altera Vita and one of their best releases in years.

Launched last year this label arm of the Pizza Express Live music chain sports strong production values and has a big release in store soon with the Billy Strayhorn Ian Shaw and Tony Kofi album, An Adventurous Dream. Recently singer Anaïs Reno's At Pizza Express Live in London picked up a good deal of interest.

A steady year so far from one of the UK's most professional jazz label entities - recent ramped up activity includes announcements of Alicia & Michael Olatuja's Olatuja, Orlando le Fleming & Romantic Funk's Wandering Talk, John O’Gallagher's Beast and Cloudmakers Trio with Leo Genovese's A Drop of Hope in the Ocean of Uncertainty. The big release of the year so far for Whirlwind has been, oh easily, Empirical's Wonder is the Beginning.

Eagle's Point proved to be the most eye and ear catching album of the year for UK jazz indiedom so far - with, for the first time, the presence of one Bradford Alexander Mehldau on this Chris Potter recording for Dave Stapleton's acclaimed Berkshire based label, Grammy winning in recent years with Secrets Are The Best Stories.

Strong releases recently continue to pour out from the west London based label and include newcomer Karim Saber's Transmission - we reckon Saber is the newcomer of the year to date full stop.

Concentrating mostly on output by north east of England singer Jo Harrop whose Larry Klein produced The Path of a Tear out later this year is London based Lateralize's most high profile release - and one of their best - lyrically and musically to date

Flautist and composer Shabaka Hutchings' London based label goes from strength to strength with the release of Ganavya's outstanding Like the Sky I've Been Too Quiet.

We continue to have a soft spot for plucky Birmingham label Stoney Lane - our favourite UK jazz indie at the moment whose output has included storming work from Paul Dunmall recently. But it is Trish Clowes and Ross Stanley Wigging out on Journey to Where that exceeded our most Pollyanna like instincts, er, bigly. The 2023 list is here

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Eurojazz clubbing 15-21 April

Shakatak Nochtspeicher, Hamburg Monday 15 and Tuesday 16 Apr 1980s London hitmakers pop jazz funkateers Shakatak are touring their latest album Eyes of the World. Gretchen Parlato and Lionel Loueke New Morning, Paris Tues 16 Apr Influential …

Published: 11 Apr 2024. Updated: 41 days.

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1980s London hitmakers pop jazz funkateers Shakatak are touring their latest album Eyes of the World.

Influential singer Parlato and Herbie Hancock guitarist Loueke continue their linger long, deep song Lean In tour.

Tenor of our times Turner in Stockholm with Jason Palmer, Joe Martin and Jonathan Pinson. Hear the American on his duo album with Danish guitar geezer Mikkel Ploug bringing home the bacon on Nocturnes among a spate of recent prodigiously satisfying recordings.

Big Dan Berglund from e.s.t. daringly as ever in the lead with the completely different Tonbruket more than a decade together who are currently touring Light Wood, Dark Strings.

Features Gwilym Simcock (Pat Metheny, Lighthouse Trio, The Impossible Gentlemen) and Kurt Rosenwinkel with on bass Nik Lukassen and drums Roland Schneider joining the influential classic jazz singer Niemack in Berlin.

Speak To Me released earlier this year, the latest from US guitarist Julian Lage was produced by Joe Henry the genius behind Solomon Burke late-period classic Don't Give Up on Me (Anti, 2002) that had glorious versions of Van Morrison's 'Fast Train' and 'Only a Dream' (one of Van's best songs of the period lyrically on a par with the wondrous 'Little Village') on it among much else. 'Serenade' is when Speak To Me gets really interesting four tracks in. Dwelling on originals of the guitarist's, Lage, an icon of the music already and still a thirtysomething peruses in the bedrock of the personnel the kind-of-Peru azure textures found in the beat of Jorge Roeder and bespoke rattle and rumbling grooves of Dave King of The Bad Plus and Chris Speed Trio pedigree here with him in Amsterdam. Among the gems '76' has a dazzling harmonic set-up in the intro and a loose baggy beat to it - just one of the things that makes this fairly essential and among the best jazz releases so far in 2024. And don't forget to chug along to 'Northern Shuffle'.

The In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew legend bass great Dave Holland here in the hometown of ECM with saxist Jaleel Shaw who was excellent on Postcards From Everywhere in 2017 and the Elvin Jones of our times drummer Eric Harland fabulous with Aaron Parks and Matt Brewer on Volume One. Holland's Another Land (2021) was worth the wait coming after the enforced Lockdownian hiatus and is far earthier than when Holland is with a pianist as chief harmonic foil. Kevin Eubanks on that record injected a certain razor edged bluesiness when required but he was also astute at opening up a lot of space, say on 'Gentle Warrior'. In terms of sheer riffery 'Mashup' is unbeatable. Read an interview with the Wolverhampton wanderer big Dave found on Leroy Lives. The Holland trio also play the Jazzhus Montmartre earlier in the week on the 16th.

Dream Louder reviewed in January proved compelling from Israeli guitarist Rotem Sivan - his style landing somewhere between John Scofield and Peter Bernstein - on an album that twists and turns from space laden pastoral ('The Tree') to bluesy down home funkiness like you'll find on 'The Hamish', this latter one named for bassist Hamish Smith and featuring vocals from Sami Stevens, or the feverishness of 'Dragon' with its drum 'n' bass underpinning. No newcomer Sivan has been making records for more than a decade. Originals sit alongside covers of the Beatles' 'Blackbird', Appalachian folk tune 'West Virginia Mine Disaster' and Kurt Weill's 'Mack the Knife.' In Paris down le Duc with Smith and Dream Louder drummer Miguel Russell.

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''Welcoming you to the present time, each one must make it alone; even the old clichés have meaning totally new to me - it's suddenly good to be home,'' the words of Norma Winstone, from the Towner/Winstone song 'Celeste'. While Celeste (issued by Naxos-Prophone last year) from classic jazz singer Mette Juul, above, the striking thing we found overall was the way Juul connects with a Norma Winstone sensibility. And that is not just because she covers 'Distance' that Norma interpreted in classic fashion in one of her best ever recorded performances. But also more directly because of the Ralph Towner 1970s title track the piece 'Celeste' that Winstone set lyrics to and recorded in the 80s firstly with John Taylor and the late Tony Coe on Somewhere Called Home.

  • Joyce Elaine Yuille & The Elio Coppola Trio Feat. Jerry Weldon Blue Note, Milan Thurs 18 Apr

Cast your minds back to 2015 when Yuille released the terrific Welcome to My World. The New York City-born singer, a former backing singer for Gloria Gaynor, was on the Schema label release joined by an empathetic band on an album of mainly new jazz and soul-flavoured material. Covers of Donny Hathaway’s ‘Tryin’ Times,’ a song that appeared on 1970’s Everything is Everything, and Marvin Gaye’s ‘It’s Madness’ also featured. Yuille's influences include Sarah Vaughan and Phyllis Hyman, and she has an attractively expressive low toned jazz and soul voice.

Read an interview - Sea of Love in Sugar Hill - with singer Allan Harris. Bix is the place to be on the 19th as Harris continues to keep it real and show his considerable Gregory Porter-esque class.

Emil Viklický Trio, Agharta, Prague Fri 19 Apr

Reggie Jonas Jr Trio Budapest Jazz Club, Budapest Fri 19 Apr

Christian McBride  Jason Moran

Among the top 5 jazz bassists in the world - the others we reckon are Dave Holland in action this week, Ron Carter, Dezron Douglas and Thomas Morgan - Christian McBride [photo: above, right, with Jason Moran of the Bandwagon] plays Warsaw club Jassmine with guitarist Ely Perlman, keyboardist Mike King, drummer Savannah Harris and Nicole Glover on the tenor saxophone whose Plays has just been released. McBride excited us on Jo Harrop's 'The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants' that also featured Swansea wiz Andy Davies letting his horn judder and, yep, local pun, enter the veritable mumbles. Recently we reviewed the Philadelphian icon's duo album with his fellow bass goliath Edgar Meyer on But Who's Gonna Play the Melody and loved the James Brown loving don's work on 2021's LongGone with Joshua Redman in the saxist's reunited classic 1990s Moodswing combination.

María Grand and Marta Sánchez Sunside, Paris Saturday 20 April

Acclaimed avant saxist-singer Grand and David Murray pianist Sánchez play from the duo's new Biophilia album, Anohin

Julian Lage Trio Mojo club, Hamburg Sat 20 Apr

Mario Corvini New Talents Jazz Orchestra feat. Enrico Pieranunzi Casa del Jazz, Rome Sunday 21 Apr

Playing material from 2023's Entropy Italian piano icon Pieranunzi also sizzled with Jasper Somsen and Giovanni Mirabassi on the glorious dance of Traveller's Ways that we recently reviewed.

Victoria Geelan Arthur's, Dublin Sun 21 Apr in the afternoon

Out of the Derry scene led by Omagh singer Victoria Geelan with Downpatrick ace pianist Neil Burns, known for his work with The Henry Girls, bassist Rohan Armstrong (gigging with The Good Noise's Caolán Hutchinson and James Anderson last year) and drummer Andrew McCoubrey in a Sings Nina presentation for all the mighty Dubs in the room.

Dave Holland, top, photo: Edition, plays Copenhagen and Munich coming up