The future of London's jazz scene

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Time Out find out how Seb Rochford‘s Polar Bear are mapping out a new future for London‘s jazz scene

  • The future of London's jazz scene

    Seb Rochford: small voice, big hair, quietly huge on the jazz/punk interface

  • London’s music fans often fetishise music that’s being made in other parts of the world – the weird and wonderful music coming out of, say, Berlin, New York, Chicago or Norway. We see them as areas where freeform jazz saxophonists and death metal guitarists and folk fiddlers and laptop-stroking electronica types casually make extraordinary music together. It turns out that music fans around the world are starting to see London in the same light.

    And it’s drummer Seb Rochford who seems to be at the centre of it all. A softly spoken, big-haired 32-year-old based in Clapton, he arrived in London a decade ago without a car and perfected a way of transporting his entire drumkit by tube (the stands would go in a rucksack, the cymbals in a shoulder bag, and all the drums would fit inside the bass drum, like Russian dolls). He now finds himself at the centre of a vast network of very different bands. He played on the first Babyshambles single; he works with Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon; he was a member of Chris Taylor’s theatrical swamp band Menlo Park and still plays with eccentric lo-fi outfit Paul The Girl. He loses count of the number of bands he’s in at the moment, but they would include Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland, Fulborn Teversham, Leafcutter John and Oriole along with projects led by Julia Biel, Ingrid Laubrock, Tim Richards, Andy Sheppard and Joanna MacGregor.

    Many of these are playing a three-night mini-festival which Seb is curating at the Spitz this week. Attendance is compulsory for anyone interested in broadening their musical horizons.Rochford, like many of the artists he works with, emerged from the F-IRE Collective, a loose confederation of jazz musicians led by City University and Royal Academy of Music tutor Barak Schmool. Under Schmool’s leadership, F-IRE (an acronym for ‘Fellowship for Integrated Rhythmic Expression’) initially specialised in a slightly sterile mix of M-BASE-style cryptic jazz fusion and prankish, Loose Tubes-style global influences. Last October, Schmool led a national F-IRE Collective tour, sponsored by CMN, which ignored the individual bands thrown up by the Collective and instead chose to arrange the members’ compositions for an 18-piece band.

    This, in hindsight, may have been the last manifestation of the F-IRE Collective as a unified project. Since then the constituent groups have fractured, moved further from the ‘jazz’ brief to inhabit other forms of music – pastoral folk, punk, prog, metal, electronica and classical composition. Jazz musicians are, of course, no strangers to fusion, but in recent decades such hybridity has seemed like cultural tourism – hearing a conservatoire-trained muso unveil his new hip hop or drum ’n’ bass project often seems like daddy-at-the-disco, a ‘proper musician’ slumming it with the kids. With F-IRE’s graduates, however, such collaborations often seem much more honest and authentic.

    ‘I think that jazz musicians have a lot to learn from non-musicians,’ says Rochford. ‘I find it very inspiring to work with people who might not have orthodox training but work very intuitively. You develop a totally different perspective on improvisation.’

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