The borders between London’s musical tribes have always been porous. For Yussef Kamaal, the sound of the capital – with its hum of jungle, grim and broken beat – has shaped a self-taught, UK-tipped approach to playing jazz. In the US, the genre’s long-running to-and-fro with hip hop – from Robert Glasper to Kamasi Washington – has reimagined it within US culture. On Black Focus, Yussef Kamaal frame jazz inside the bass-saturated, pirate radio broadcasts of London.
Taking inspiration from the anything-goes spirit of 70s jazz-funk, on albums by Herbie Hancock or the Mahavishnu Orchestra, it’s a loose template with plenty of room to experiment. Yussef Kamaal is comprised of Yussef Dayes and Kamaal Williams (aka Henry Wu) and both artists have had little in the way of formal training. Instead their musical taste – and approach to playing – are indebted to Thelonious Monk’s piano as much as the drum programming of Kaidi Tatham. The project was born out of a one-off live session to perform Williams’ solo material for Boiler Room, and soon after became a project in its own right. Coming together as Yussef Kamaal, they played a series of live shows where little more than a chord progression would be planning before taking to the stage.
Today, check out the song “WingTai Drums” from Yussef Kamaal’s forthcoming album Black Focus. The album was engineered by Malcolm Catto of The Heliocentrics.