Setting out on their first tour, SEED Ensemble are soon to bring their unique blend of jazz, and West African and Caribbean dance grooves to various intimate venues across the UK.

From a genre that once drifted from its roots, there’s a new driving force of artists injecting life into what is becoming a roaring political statement of togetherness. A multitude of fresh young talent have formed a vibrant community that may well change a generation’s perception of jazz. At the heart of this thriving movement sits Cassie Kinoshi, a prolific composer and alto saxophonist who claims her stake in a growing number of exhilarating projects. But SEED is all her own.

Born out of the desire to create big theatrical musical pieces but understanding that it’s “a lot more achievable and long-term to put together a smaller group”, Cassie saw Yazz Ahmed’s all-female 10-piece at just the right time: “I’ve always been interested in writing for big bands, but didn’t realise you could create such a cool sound with just 10 people.”

This inspiration led to forming SEED for a one-off piece while studying composition at Uni. Now four years down the line, the critically acclaimed 10-piece narrowly missed out on their first Mercury Prize shortlist with their debut album, Driftglass, but made significant gains in recognition as rising UK stars.

The resurgence of jazz may seem like a sudden movement, but hidden behind the countless number of collaborations are the background influences slowly paving the way for bands like SEED to flourish. One such influence is a Harrow-based social enterprise named Tomorrow’s Warriors, whose aim is to transform the lives of future generations by increasing opportunity, diversity and excellence in and through jazz.

Cassie reflects on the impact that Tomorrow’s Warriors has played in connecting and inspiring the current wave of musicians: “Some of the heavyweights of the UK scene came out of Tomorrow’s Warriors. I understand when people talk about the jazz scene it’s quite London centric, but a lot of the names we know today started in Warriors.

“In the first year of uni, I got accepted into the family and we’re still friends today. It’s a very open minded and supportive community that gives aspiring musicians like me something to fall back on.”

It’s projects like Tomorrow’s Warriors that have harnessed the power of inclusivity within the scene, unifying a breadth of individuals from a variety of cultures and backgrounds to help a genre once again find its identity.

“Jazz was very white back in the day, so it’s nice to see more black people at the forefront of the music. But not just black people,” Cassie adds. “It’s now more how it should be, with people playing in mixed bands and more recognition for where the genre came from.

“The UK has an issue with teaching and acknowledging that jazz is an African American genre that has its roots in oppression and racism.”

SEED Ensemble full band colour portrait 2 - The Master Sessions (c) Bluesound & MQA 2020

However, the scene has come a long way since it turned into “an elitist hobby where you have to wear suits and have money” and the evolving nature of jazz is benefiting from the multiculturalism of the capital.

It’s the multicultural spirit that makes projects like SEED so special, breaking down barriers to draw influences from far and wide. Whether that be the great Fela Kuti, Herbie Hancock, or the trap and hip hop influences that have seeped into today’s sound, SEED’s first tour promises to have it all.

Playing a short run of UK dates across March, the group are sure to bring special live performances to the intimate venues. Cassie sets the scene: “smaller venues allow direct interaction with the audience; we can draw from the energy of the crowd and create a different vibe each night.”

SEED Ensemble play at Band on the Wall on Wednesday 18 March.

cassiekinoshi.com/seed-ensemble

Photographs of SEED Ensemble at The Master Sessions (c) Bluesound & MQA 2020

George Lincoln