Afterthoughts: 22a label showcase at Jazz Café

Camden’s Jazz Café has had its fair share of critics in the past few years. Poor sound, staff, seating, and some of the filthiest toilets in London (quite an achievement) meant that despite names such as D’Angelo, Pharoah Sanders and Amy Winehouse taking to the stage, the venue never really was recognised as one of the city’s brightest offerings.

Keen to shift this image and prevent the space from following the recurring trend of club closures, Columbo Group, responsible for the likes of XOYO, Phonox and The Nest took over the space; pumping £3 million into a much-needed facelift; addressing issues such as the poor sound quality, even fitting speakers in the refurbished toilets linked to the main stage’s output.

They have, however, upheld its stellar booking policy, with names including Pantha Du Prince, Fatima and the Eglo Band, and Dâm-Funk featuring in their busy opening two weeks. First up was Peckham imprint, 22a.

Knowing the philosophy of Tenderlonious’ 22a beforehand, the Jazz Café already seemed like a match made in heaven. Community is a word at the centre of the posse, who share parents, housing, and of course, their musical palette, centred around dusty hip-hop instrumentals and a melange of jazz and soul. The set up at the Camden venue similarly evokes a relaxed, convivial aura, with the stage free of any barriers or bouncers, and the upstairs floor hosting a dimly lit dining experience.

The first few hours saw Jeen Bassa and Tenderlonious trading places on the decks, meandering through smooth boom bap rhythms and soulful cuts from their own catalogue, alongside tracks from influencers like J Dilla and Charls Earland. Al Dobson Jr’s set later on similarly showcased the style 22a has become synonymous with, providing the perfect soundtrack for people to enjoy whilst chatting as it did for those dancing.

There’s no doubting the group’s skills at turntablists, but it was the live show – courtesy of jazz group Ruby Rushton – that was the highlight of the evening. The band, led by Tenderlonious on the saxophone (and occasionally flute) performed an hour of slow-building jazz numbers, at times downbeat and others feverish. Whatever end of the spectrum, it was breathtaking. ‘Two For Joy’ and ‘Trudi Mary’, two of the EP’s finest offerings, were both enhanced by an improv, slapdash performance. Their dazzling 2015 Boiler Room set was no fluke.

Closing the night was IG Culture, who fused tracks from Hiatus Kayote and Kush Mody with real panache, less concerned about the set’s flow and more with spinning great records old and new. But make no mistake; the focus was on 22a, who are becoming one of London’s worst kept secrets, and rightly so.

Words: Nathan Diamond