After celebrating its 25th anniversary, the iconic Jazz Café, was sold to the unstoppable London club operators, The Columbo Group. The owners of XOYO, Blues Kitchen and The Old Queens Head (to name a few), set to work on a total revamp, and The Jazz Café closed its doors for the next three months.
Last week, The Camden music venue re-opened, with a glossy makeover, a re-thought food and drink menu, and the promise from Columbo Group to “take the venue to the next level.”
During a week of diverse re-launch shows, I popped my head in to the 22a label showcase, featuring Ruby Rushton, Al Dobson Jr, Reginald Omas Mamode IV, Jeen Bassa and special guest, IG Culture.
As we entered, the smell of incense rich in the air, three guys hung out at the decks in oversized coats, spinning a welcoming background blend of instrumental hip-hop and not-quite-jazz. The mood was set.
First to the live billing was Reginald Omas Mamode IV. He was so chilled out on stage, I wasn’t quite sure if this was just an extended mic check, but after a few minutes of his rolling soul vocals, I was sold.
Reginald’s performance was a supremely laidback affair. He played some beats; good, funky tunes, with a lot of soul and plenty of bounce. He sang over the top. He stopped now and then for a sip of his drink and a nod to the beat. He chatted to the crowd about the sound levels and the state of the world. The whole thing was much like popping to a friend’s house on a Friday night. He solidified the tone of the night with this off the cuff comment:
“This is not a takeover, this is an invitation.”
And that’s what it felt like. Yes, we were at a paid gig. I had indeed paid a fiver for single gin, but there was a distinctly homely vibe to the whole event.
After a warm welcome from Reginald, the much awaited Ruby Rushton entered the stage, and immediately filled the room. 6 guys, 4 beards, about 15 instruments and an unquantifiable amount of swag. In keeping with the homely feeling of the night, this was much less a ‘set’ than an hour long jamming session, interspersed with some deep words and political speeches to the crowd, some scattered percussion interludes and a whopping sax solo from label founder, Tenderlonious.
This was not your average jazz night, if there is such a thing. 22a exuded soulful, home-grown London vibes throughout, and refused to be put in anything as uptight as a specific genre.
22a are paving the way for modern, progressive jazz and soul in London, and beyond. It was a bold move as the launch night booking for the Jazz Café, and made a big statement about where the venue is heading.
I’d always had huge respect for the Jazz Café, as one of only a few places in London to see big names in soul, jazz and reggae. After I saw the listings for the new Jazz Café, it struck me that the modernisation had been well overdue.
From electronica to hip-hop to modern jazz, this Summer sees a wealth of exciting live acts from across the board. Pantha Du Prince, Harvey Sutherland, Slum Village, Andrew Weatherall; partnerships with Fact Magazine, RMBA and Outlook Festival; alongside emerging jazz and soul acts, and 3am weekend parties.
This is the live venue the music consumer of 2016 is craving, and I feel like it’s filling a gap for accessible, relevant, live music; outside of a traditional guitar scene. This is live music for the techno crowd, jazz music for the hip-hop crowd, midweek gigs for team Saturday night. This is forward thinking music for a forward thinking city.
The Columbo Group have been careful to keep the essence of this iconic venue, with the likes of Stanley Clarke, Mica Paris and the Heatwave on the rosta. However, this much needed refurb and cleverly curated calendar has brought The Jazz Café bang into the present day.
Catch up with the latest music from 22a here
Check out the new, improved Jazz Cafe here
Photo credits: Jordan Matyka. See more from him here