In the last few years, UK jazz has transitioned from a fringe genre to something being embraced by the mainstream, and at the forefront of this movement is the quintet Ezra Collective. Eschewing elitism, the multi-racial line-up – comprising James Mollison on saxophone, Joe Armon-Jones on keys, brothers Femi and TJ Koleoso on drums and bass and Dylan Jones on trumpet – are redefining what it means to be a jazz act today.
The collective formed back in 2012 with the help of the non-profit organisation Tomorrow’s Warriors, and have since nurtured a fan base of faithful devotees seeking out alternative jazz in a streaming era defined by transient releases. At the tail end of last year, the group reached a pinnacle with a sold-out gig at Camden’s KOKO, establishing themselves as consummate live performers, playing with a free-flowing abandon and kinetic synergy that’s often difficult to replicate on record.
Their first studio release, ‘You Can’t Steal My Joy’, injects the feeling and motion of live music, a lovingly assembled debut LP and a natural continuation of their 2017 EP ‘Juan Pablo: The Philosopher’. With a tenor-trumpet core, Ezra Collective skilfully blend traditional tropes with a genre-fluid plurality, symbolic of their upbringing in the metropolis.
Like US jazz that differs according to the inimitable spirit of each region, Ezra Collective blend sounds from the Caribbean and African diaspora in London, leaning on musical urges and influences that are as natural and fluid as anything you’ll hear this year. Never beholden to unyielding conventions, the collective subtly subvert the coda into moments that will only be enhanced in a live setting.
Take the seething slow-burner ‘Quest For Coin’, which integrates snappy horns and nimble-fingered chord progressions, spanning UK funk and afrobeat. The ska-reggae flavour of ‘Red Whine’ lives up to its namesake, lowering the tempo and ratcheting up the temperature, evoking an image of a dimly-lit basement with a sea of bodies swaying in unison.
The LP is peppered with just a few guest spots, one being the introspective highlight ‘What Am I To Do?’, featuring the spoken-word cogitations of Loyle Carner, deftly integrating hazy hip-hop into their repertoire without coming off as derivative. The record draws to a close with the KOKOROKO-assisted ‘Shakara’, bringing together two of the buzziest acts in new wave jazz.
A near six-minute odyssey of contemporary rhythm, whiplash-inducing bass-backing and dancefloor anthems, the track symbolises the impenetrable chemistry between each member of the collective, all component parts of a greater whole. In an age of hostile austerity manufactured by moral panic-inducing powers, Ezra Collective’s debut effort is a polyrhythmic balm for disillusioned youth seeking a dose of musical dopamine.
Words: Shahzaib Hussain
Dig it? Dig Deeper: KOKOROKO, Alfa Mist, Moses Boyd
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