The tom-tom club

Thursday, 3rd February — By Rob Ryan

Jay Kayser_courtesy Paiste cymbals

Jas Kayser. Photo courtesy of Paiste Cymbals

ONE of the consequences of the broadening of the definition of “jazz” in the UK – incorporating as it does elements of Afrobeat, dub, hip-hop and broken beat – is that more of the burden of juggling rhythm, time and tempo falls on the drummer than ever before. Luckily, the scene has a raft of first-rate percussionists who are more than up to the challenge. I’m thinking of Moses Boyd, Femi Koleoso of Ezra Collective and Gorillaz, Jake Long of Maisha and Eddie Hick of everyone from Alicia Keys to Robert Glasper.

As in every area of the new jazz world, women are equally to the fore in the drumming department. Just before Christmas at the Queen Elizabeth Hall’s celebration of the Tomorrow’s Warriors programme I witnessed a dramatic, sparkling, joyous drum battle between Moses Boyd and Romarna Campbell that brought grins to both the players and the audience. There’s also Lizy Exel of the all-female Nérija, who has her own project, Sallix, coming soon and Daisy Palmer, equally at home with Paloma Faith or Andy Shephard as she is with her own band, Mesadorm.

One of the most talked about of this pack, who regularly plays out in London, is the 25-year-old Jas Kayser. Mentored by jazz rhythm royalty Terri-Lynne Carrington at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, she has drummed for Lenny Kravitz, Nubya Garcia, Poppy Ajudha, Jorja Smith, and Ashley Henry. Of late she has been found guesting in the chair for Kansas Smitty’s House Band (KSHB) and is featured on their highly recommended new album Plunderphonia, which takes early jazz classics from the likes of Jelly Roll Morton and catapults them well into the 21st century.

I asked saxophonist and clarinettist Giacomo Smith, the creative force behind KSHB, why she is such a good fit for the band. “She’s a good fit for any band,” he replied. “If there was still a Wrecking Crew working in the LA studios, Jas Kayser would be in it. As a drummer, she’s at home on every style from Dilla grooves to Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars. As a professional, she amplifies the experience for any band of people. Just look at who she has worked with!”

You can catch Jas strutting her stuff at Chelsea’s 606 Club on February 15 (www.606club.co.uk/events/view/jas-kayser-1/) with the wonderfully empathetic duo of Joe Webb on piano and Will Sach on bass, who are also part of the Kansas Smitty’s collective, so it’s going to be a fascinating, dynamic, three-way conversation.

The next night, Wednesday 16th, she moves to Ronnie Scott’s in Soho, as part of the top-flight band supporting bassist Daniel Casimir, a cornerstone of the Brit jazz movement. There’s James Corpus on trumpet, Al MacSween on piano and human blowtorch (although he does have a gentle side, which he is sure to reveal here) the great Binker Golding on sax. Tickets: www.ronniescotts.co.uk/performances/view/7019-daniel-casimir

Jas and her own band also pop up as part of a triple bill at the Jazz Café on March 3 (https://thejazzcafelondon.com/event/zeitgeist-freedom-energy-exchange-jas-kayser-tone/).

Another KSHB alumnus is part of the very welcome return of Monday’s Jazz at The Oxford Tavern in Kentish Town Road. As always, a cracking line-up of guests is up for grabs for a very modest entry fee; see www.jazzattheoxfordtavern.com for programme and tickets.



Gene Calderazzo. Photo: Bob Meyrick

I’ll certainly be along to see one of my favourite drummers, Gene Calderazzo, an American expat who is playing with award-winning, Coltrane-inspired saxophonist Josephine Davies, whose album with her Satori trio, How Can We Wake? was recorded live at The Oxford. Gene isn’t on that record, but one of his regular gigs is with the excellent pianist Zoe Rahman, who says of him: “Gene’s playing is deeply swinging, endlessly inventive, joyful, passionate, fiery, meaningful, is steeped in history but is always incredibly present in the moment. Even after nearly 20 years of working with him, his playing still can take me by surprise. He’s a world-class gem!”

Josephine Davies’ music requires an intricate and instinctive dialogue between sax and drums, so it should be quite the gig.

Incidentally, you can see Zoe Rahman as part of the Pizza Express Soho’s mouth-watering 2-Steinway Festival, when a brace of pianists face-off from behind a pair of the eponymous pianos, of which more next time.

Back at the Oxford Tavern, I promised you a Kansas Smitty’s alumnus. Well, actually, you get a lot more than that for your money. On Monday February 28th, Pete Horsfall is in the house, with his fine trumpet work and yearning, plaintive vocals, as featured on his album Nighthawks.

Also on stage to lend a hand are Giacomo Smith on alto sax, Joe Webb on piano, Ferg Ireland handling the bass and Will Cleasby on drums (who, in the small world department, was once tutored by Gene Calderazzo). All of them, including Pete, are part of the Kansas Smitty’s extended family and it is bound to be a top night in Kentish Town. Tickets: www.jazzattheoxfordtavern.com

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