Wax Poetics recently joined forces with a European partner and published a Special Collector’s Edition that featured an article, “New Visions,” about the current crop of jazz musicians in a vibrant and fresh London scene, including keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Jamaal Williams (aka Henry Wu), whose short-lived project Yussef Kamaal (with percussionist Yussef Dayes) is already considered a classic.
You can purchase a copy of Wax Poetics Europe 001 – Special Collector’s Edition from our European distributor RushHour.
The following is an excerpt from Wax Poetics Europe 001 – Special Collector’s Edition:
Reflecting on the club-based nature of the new London scene, Yussef Dayes—one half of Yussef Kamaal alongside keyboardist Henry Wu (aka Kamaal Williams)—told the Guardian newspaper in 2017: “I see a correlation between what grime MCs do on the vocals and what we do it on the instruments, there’s a similar energy. When you grow up in London, you’re just inspired by a mix of these things.” In both the pivotal future-jazz LP of Yussef Kamaal’s 2016 release, Black Focus, and Kamaal Williams’s 2018 record The Return, the sound of broken beat has been an important part of this mix.
Of all the artists to emerge from this resolutely underground London scene of the early 2000s, there is one figure to have had the biggest influence on Henry Wu. “I remember first hearing Kaidi Tatham at a Jazz re:freshed session, and that was a real game-changer for me,” says Wu. “That was when I started to really hear the roots of broken in Latin, jazz-funk, and boogie.” Jazz re:freshed subsequently became an important testing ground for Wu’s own music. “Adam and Justin and those guys there are fundamental to all of this and to me in particular,” he says. “They always embraced me and showed me love.”
One of the new-school members of IG Culture’s Selectors Assemble that is continuing the legacy of 2000s London club night Co-Op, Wu has also recorded a host of broken beat–influenced, jazz-inflected records for labels like 22a (founded by saxophonist and flautist Tenderlonious, aka Edward Cawthorne, another key figure in the scene), as well as Alexander Nut and Sam Shepherd’s Eglo Records. “Aside from the musical progression, what was really important to me was to create my own tactics to get my music out there,” says Wu. “I didn’t have any management or anything, so it was thanks to my boy Tenderlonious and Alexander Nut that I was able to navigate my way through. And it was really helpful to work with different crews in pushing the music in different directions.”
Where others on the scene were schooled more formally, Wu received his education through the bass-saturated street sounds of London’s pirate radio and listening hard to his musical heroes. “I was self-taught really,” he says. “Just playing along to things like 4 Hero, and then starting to work out little shapes of my own and beginning my own journey on the keys.” Rather than being restricted by his lack of formal training, it has given Wu the freedom to create his distinctive loose and liberated sound. “I never learned in any systematic way, which at the time I felt like it was a disadvantage, especially as I was so into jazz but didn’t have the vocabulary and technicality to compete. But now in the last few years, I think it actually gave me my own character, so I wouldn’t change anything.”
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