Just a couple of years ago, a Finnish jazz label called We Jazz ambitiously decided to start a journal-sized quarterly publication about – you guessed it – jazz. They packed it from day one with a breadth, depth and visual style unseen before in a jazz publication, to my knowledge, very much non-fusty, of our times and “jazz in the 21st century”, while absolutely trussed to jazz history, especially 60s avant-jazz and beyond.
I ordered the second one, which they called Pursuance, a year or two back, and instantly knew this was going to have to be a regular – albeit an expensive – purchase. I’m still something of a neophyte jazz listener; I certainly know what I like, and I even do an irregular jazz podcast called Jazz Libertines – but there are loads of missing gaps in my knowledge that this publication is helping to fill, including what’s happening currently. I really have only regularly followed the Clean Feed, Astral Spirits and Rune Grammofon labels, and any jazz Soul Jazz puts out, and even those I can’t keep up with at all. Too many hobbies, always my cross to bear.
So I’m looking for guidance and shepherding and right now the We Jazz journals are just that. They’re up to 8 editions of this as of this writing, and it’s enough of a professional concern that the label is now offering subscriptions. This issue I just finished reading last night is the 6th, and it came out in Winter 2022 and has the title Revelation.
So you indie rockers and fanzine heads will know the names Peter Margasak and Bill Meyer, both last talked about in our pages here and here, respectively. They’re heavy contributors of both features and reviews; Daniel Spicer, who writes for The Wire and many other places, is as well. Mostly it’s Scandinavians, so there’s a strong Scandinavian slant to the jazz that’s covered – which is great, because my exceptionally uninformed opinion says that most of the wildest and most interesting stuff happening in jazz the last 10/15 years has been happening there. While there are exceptions, the jazz that’s covered generally starts with stuff that’s a little “out” or moderately experimental, and carries on to music that’s 100% free and improvisational. Nothing smooth or fushiony here, far as I can tell, although no question I’ve followed some of the trails they’ve painted for me on Bandcamp or Spotify or whatever and found them lacking – but as we say in the business – that’s jazz, baby.
We Jazz is a beautiful and tactile magazine: thick paper, color photographs and artwork, professional photographers and an overall sense of care & feeding, while still capturing enough of the fanzine ethos by being written by true jazz heads, casually and almost entirely free of dictat and dogma. #6 has terrific pieces on Pharoah Sanders, 60s/70s label Black Jazz Records and this amazing Sun Ra: Art on Saturn book that I just reserved at my local library. That’s the stuff I personally knew a little bit about; Francis Gooding also writes one of my absolute favorite record reviews in ages about the Horace Tapscott The Quintet release, very much questioning its provenance and motives for multiple paragraphs, while boiling down whether it’s any good or not to the final sentences (note: it is).
Then there’s a plethora of deeper dives both visual and journalistic into other realms – and it’s important to note, it’s not always jazz they cover here; for instance, the Nyege Nyege Festival in Uganda, put together by these guys. It’s otherworldly, raw electronica for the most part. And this issue continues the photographic exploration of “Tokyo jazz joints” and record collector haunts across the city, though I think they’re running out of material here – the first one was amazing and had me Googling flights, but now, four installations in, I reckon it’s run its course.
Listen, I’m leaving out way more than I’m telling you about We Jazz magazine. As long as you’re willing and able to “pay the freight” for these, as it were, I think they’re pretty fantastic and likely exceptionally collectable in their own right. Not that we’d ever buy something like this for that reason, though, right?