"I hope this email finds you well," is a phrase that rarely earns instant excitement. Thankfully, in the case of young London neo-jazz group THUMB, the payoff is cool jazz from across the ocean that you probably haven't heard before.
A simple "Kind regards, Michael THUMB" concluded the email from the group's sax player Michael Weber, and a link sent me to their bandcamp page where I listened to their new EP South of the River.
I click "play" and from the first notes on the piano, it's easy to hear this isn't mainstream jazz. The riff adds funky drums, vibraphone and bass, repeating the phrase until it becomes like a loop of a classic soul hook. It's great to hear a band create a "sample" like this rather than use someone else's work, as obscurely hip as that sample might be.
Now the horns enter with a punchy counterpoint, they hit the kick-back bridge and hey - we've got a cool song here! Then the sax solos above that catchy homemade loop, soulful improvisation bringing up the energy, handing off to a tasty piano solo that's grounded in that groove. I'm in. Who are these guys?
After a few back-and-forth emails, I learn that the band was formed from previous collaborations between the players in early 2016. The group's composing, arranging and playing draws directly from jazz styles, but their love of "ABBA as much as Coltrane" has led to their own unique style.
"We consider ourselves just as much a funk band, concentrating on playing upbeat and cheeky music that gets people going," they wrote to me. I thought immediately of the history of jazz as social music, intended to get people dancing and having a good time. That's what THUMB is up to.
The young group has been working to develop live events that create an "awesome night for the people playing and the people paying," working on new material and earning a bit of airplay on student radio stations.
It seems a web search of "specialist radio" shows led them to The New Cool, and an email to yours truly followed. "Honestly I was never expecting a response let alone a play," writes Weber, and I was never expecting a random band from the other side of the world to send me music that would impress me like THUMB. But these bands are out there, and they keep coming!
Tune in this week to hear that opening track, "Thomas Is (Probably) Not a Cool Dude" from their debut EP. THUMB says more music is coming soon, so follow along with me via the internet tubes to hear how they develop. "We are making music that we love with our best mates, putting everything creatively into it, without taking ourselves too seriously," they tell me. So if you're up for a good time, THUMB is for you!
Coincidentally, KNKX is giving away tickets to catch their countrymen in New Mastersounds at The Neptune Theatre on November 9th - enter to win!!
The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.