There’s something very exciting happening around jazz in London – I say ‘around’ because it’s a throwback, in part, to late-90s club culture, it’s ‘world’ music for want of a term, it’s not just jazz but jazz informs every aspect – even if the horns venture into shronking-good afrobeat, free-form funk and filth.
The latest cab off the rank is Theon Cross – maybe you know him, as I did, from his crucial contribution to Sons of Kemet, one of the bands leading the way in this funkified Arts Festival.
In fact Cross’s solo debut – pure fire as the title hints – features three distinct bandleaders working together for the great good: drummer Moses Boyd (The Exodus, known for collaborating with Ed Motta, Gilles Peterson, Sampha, Floating Points and many others), saxophonist Nubya Garcia (NÉRIJA, MAISHA) and Cross (Kemet) bringing his tuba to the fore.
The trio is joined on a couple of tracks by guitar (Artie Zaitz on Candace of Meroe and CIYA) as well as Tim Doyle’s percussion (Candace) and Cross’ brother Nathaniel joins to duel with his trombone on the album closer (CIYA).
But for the most part it’s Boyd laying down sinewy funk, hard-edged jazz, even light R’n’B syncopations (Letting Go) and jittery King Sunny-styled afrobeat (Candace of Meroe) while Cross and Garcia take turns soloing and holding the bottom end. You’ll be frequently gob-smacked by the power and dexterity of Cross’ horn-blowing, right out of the gates with opener, Activate. His short bass-note riffs propel the tune while Garcia spits her truth in a dizzying weave of tenor sax. But just as often it’s Garcia on mantra-like sax riffs so that Cross’ nimble-fingers get to dance (Radiation).
It’s utterly joyous, mesmeric music – all at once the best upbeat party (for one – or for however many you care to introduce to this album) with just enough stylistic range (the hip-hop of The Offerings, the dark edges and inner relentlessness of LDN’s Burning, the broken-beat future-jazz of Panda Village, the soft waft within the ballad-form that supports CIYA).
There’s such skill in the playing – huge experimentation made instantly accessible.
This is in line to be one of my favourite records of the year. It’s like the small-combo version of Kamasi Washington’s giant plan crossed with the best memories of James Hardway and the late 90s/early 00s acid jazz explosion.
It’s a reminder, too, that tuba was once a powerful instrument in jazz- pre-swing, particularly. Recent years have found it cumbersome, not cool, whatever. Cross changes all of that here. Ultimately giving hope to a whole new generation of musicians.
The main thing though – is that from hints of N’awlins through to a future jazz could never have envisioned for itself – the music on this album is just glorious.
I love it so much.
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