The Jazz Defenders Rise With King Phoenix

In the 1960s, we had the “British Invasion” of rock bands into the United States. Now we have the influx of “British Funk” often capturing the sounds of the 60s and 70s in a compelling way for today’s scene.  The groups include The New Mastersounds, Haggis Horns, Filthy Six, The Bongolian, Speedometer and of course The Jazz Defenders.  All these groups put out great music and are among my favorites of today.  Several players cross pollinate these groups and collectively deserve a huge place in your record collection.

King Phoenix is The Jazz Defenders their second album for Haggis Records (home of UK funk kings The Haggis Horns). Their debut release “Scheming” (2020) was an  homage to the late 1950s/early 1960s classic jazz style known as hard bop, this release moves into new territory with hip-hop/jazz, cinema soundtrack flavors, Latin rhythms and soul-jazz all upfront in the mix. The styles may be eclectic but it shows the depth and expansion of their sound.  It’s stitched together perfectly and is definitely one that warrants a place in your ears. Here’s a statement from the band and my full track by track rundown.

"King Phoenix" is a statement in itself from the Jazz Defenders. After 2 years of music being destroyed by the pandemic and many musicians inactive, the band has risen from the ashes with new vigour, energy, and vision to try something new and not just repeat past musical glories. A band that sticks to the same script every release might just end up having a short shelf life but the Jazz Defenders are planning on being around for a long time.
The Jazz Defenders on Bandcamp
Track By Track

Wagger Jaunt (piano-led soul-jazz) has a real silky feel from the get go with a tight bass/drum/piano intro before the horn section comes on strong.  Immediately following is a sweet tenor solo from  Nicholas Dover. As I’ve come to expect from the Haggis Records label is some fresh takes with old school undertones.  The balanced approach of the horns and keys is clearly reminiscent of some late-60s Herbie Hancock as reflected in the album liner notes.

Munch (organ-led soul-jazz) strikes immediately with that nice B3 roll and the horns join in on the lead melody right after. Munch is pure groove in a continuous roll. There’s some sweet coordination between the horn line and the organ line.  Nick Malcolm has a slick solo that segues into George Cooper taking the lead on piano before he switches back to the Wurly. Munch definitely sticks with you long after the song ends.

The Oracle is unmistakingly cinematic with the organ intro and lead with the bell tone injection followed by a hispanic trumpet lead.  As described on their Bandcamp site, they’ve even enlisted full string instrumentation which leads up to the midpoint. George Cooper has a very emotionally tinged section and Nick Malcolm follows with an evocative trumpet solo. The tune builds back to a full sound with George and Nick trading leads up to the end with swirling strings as the backdrop. It’s a beautiful tune. 

"The Oracle'' is a pure homage to the classic cinematic compositions of maestros like John Barry (James Bond, The Ipcress File) or Lalo Schifrin (Mission Impossible, Bullitt) right down to the very impressive string arrangement, beautifully scored and orchestrated by bandleader George Cooper.
The Jazz Defenders on Bandcamp

Twilight is a classic hard bop jazz piece with the piano and double bass opener. The horns join to carry the melody and pretty early Nicholas Dover has the lead voice on tenor sax. There’s a bridge solo with Nicholas and he’s got the chops and flows nicely before giving way to Nick Malcolm for an equally deft trumpet solo. Cooper takes comes in swinging and Will Harris holds it down double bass before the full group cruises to the end.

Love’s Vestige features Brazilian bossa rhythms but with some added film soundtrack overtones. This one could fit in easy as a theme for the TV show Miami Vice. There’s some nice back and forth between piano and tenor. The tenor and trumpet then mirror each other before merging back into the main theme. 

Perfectly Imperfect is a pleasant style change-up to hip hip/jazz from the band. It brings to mind the the Chicago-based group Sidewalk Chalk that mixes male-female rap and vocals in a sweet blending of sounds. It’s a little unexpected coming from the double bass intro but it’s super catchy. The switch up from the bouncy rap to the smooth chorus is effortless. Cooper plays another straight up jazz solo in the second half that takes it right to the close.

A big departure from the previous album comes via the two hip-hop/jazz tracks, both of which feature guest MCs... Perfectly Imperfect features London MC/actor Doc Brown rapping on a nice and slow 90's style head-nodding hip-hop groove. Both compositions show George Cooper's love for old school boom-bap hip-hop (by the way, he also plays keys with renowned UK hip-hop big band Abstract Orchestra).
The Jazz Defenders on Bandcamp

Reprise: Queen Bee as the name suggests is a short piano interlude and a palate cleanser for the rest of the album. His playing has the touch akin to another great British keyboardist, Bill Laurance of Snarky Puppy.

From The Ashes is another classic jazz track similar to their debut album format. It has an up-tempo, charging horn line as the lead throughout. Dover’s sax solo is highlighted and the transition to Malcolm’s trumpet and then to Cooper’s piano shows the flawless synchronicity of each member. For me, it’s always interesting to hear fresh takes like this on a time proven format.

Saudade unsurprisingly is another bossa nova themed song. It features Cooper on piano and also percussion! The saucy string session is back with some beautiful flute work from guest Atholl Ransome (Haggis Horns). The word Saudade is defined as a a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament. The song clocks in at just under three minutes despite the title’s meaning I definitely could use more of it. 


Live Slow is another slick hip hop hitter and it fits in just fine on this eclectic album as its closer. It doesn’t feel like it at the start with a typical piano-horns jazzy entry. But it jumps off to some rappy lyrics from Herbal T. Instead of the percussion driven rap theme, it’s advanced with jazz and punctuated with a Nicholas Dover to George Cooper handoff with superlative licks from the horns before jumping back to the lyrical section. The repeated refrain “slow down, you’re movin’ too fast” is a great way to close the album because that’s the way you feel at the end of run through.

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The Band

George Cooper – Piano, Organ, Wurlitzer & Percussion
Will Harris – Double & Electric Bass
Ian Matthews – Drums
Nick Malcolm – Trumpet & Flugelhorn
Nicholas Dover – Tenor Sax

Doc Brown – Vocals on Perfectly Imperfect
Herbal T – Vocals on Live Slow
John Pearce – Violin on The Oracle & Saudade
Atholl Ransome – Flute on Saudade
Leigh Coleman – Vocals on Perfectly Imperfect