Nestled away in Chester’s Rufus Court, Alexander’s is buzzing with energy, packed full to the doors. Tables have been cleared to make way for a dancefloor, transforming the venue into something more closely resembling a mainstream club than a traditional jazz bar.
This is the influence of Steam Down, a collective of musicians who – alongside a whole community of artists – have made waves on the London jazz scene by breaking down the barriers between jazz and club culture. We’re not dealing with the typical beard-stroking, toe-tapping image that jazz has become associated with over the years. This is something different, something that blends the genre with dance and hip hop. This would probably be as close as you could get to a ‘jazz rave’, if such a thing exists.
But Steam Down isn’t just a band. It’s also an event and a community. Founded in 2017 by saxophonist Ahnanse, Steam Down’s weekly improvised jam sessions – held at their home of Deptford in South-East London – have been recognised for their immersion and intimacy; Musicians from across the London scene play amongst the crowd rather than being separated by a stage, and audiences are encouraged to participate, to get down.
And now, Steam Down have embarked on their first ever tour to take the London sound across Europe and the UK. In a sweep of the north, the six-piece ensemble – an assortment of Steam Down’s musicians – brilliantly emulated the vibe of the London jazz scene at Alexander’s Live in Chester. Ahnanse eased the crowd in with an opening tenor saxophone solo before the group launched into a superb blend of jazz, hip hop, soul and R&B. Soon the whole room was engrossed. It was impossible not to be. The audience was encouraged to join in with call and response chants, and to ‘get down’ in true Steam Down style.
Alongside Ahnanse were a series of excellent musicians, including Dominic Canning on a range of keys, Benajmin Appiah on drums providing infectious broken beat rhythms, and Wonky Logic on bass keytar. But the gig would not have carried the energy it did without Brother Portrait delivering his freestyle spoken word poetry or Naima Adams whose soulful vocals blew everyone away – including the rest of the group who at one moment were compelled to take a break just to watch her sing.
With the flourishing jazz scene in London, it would come as little surprise to see all of this unfolding down south, and the enthusiasm with which Steam Down were received at Alexander’s is proof that the sound is more than capable of spreading north. For this, we have those such as Stepping Tiger to thank. The Chester-based DJ has made a significant impact in bringing the London music scene north by hosting a number of musicians at Alexander’s, including Yazmin Lacey, Skinny Pelembe and – later this September – Sons of Kemet tubist Theon Cross.
The gig came to a climax towards the end of the set, with passionate chants of “you can’t hold me back”. Nobody dared, and nobody wanted to. Rather, there was a universal call for an encore which the group would gladly satisfy.
Steam Down isn’t just a band, it’s a family too. And anyone experiencing the music and energy of Steam Down can call themselves part of that family.