A babble of voices like in a bar, from which a foghorn-like howling saxophone emerges, before a sharp, rasping female voice announces itself and demands respect. When she spat out the demand “I don’t want no…” a sweet chorus replies: “Hater”. Hate doesn’t stand a chance.
“Life Goes On” is the name of the polyrhythmically vibrating piece, which ends in a sumptuous trumpet solo, a wild ride through cultures and genres. It opens the recently released album Where I’m Meant To Be by London jazz band Ezra Collective. The guest voice belongs to an African world star, the rapper Sampa the Great, who was born in Zambia and now lives in Australia.
But is that still jazz? Perhaps the most exciting new jazz has come out of London in the past few years. The word new has a special meaning because most of the protagonists of this scene are young and make music that crowds the club, meaning it’s danceable
The Afro-British formation Kokoroko released an impressive debut album in August, while saxophonist Nubya Garcia and the Sons of Kemet around saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings have long been established figures.
What connects these bands and musicians: They draw on the styles and traditions that exist in London, the culturally most diverse metropolis in Europe, and turn them into something new. With the Ezra Collective, cosmopolitanism is particularly dazzling. Her “Victory Dance”, which begins with nervously syncopated cymbal hits, is transformed into a sizzling Afro-Cuban party hit that you could dance salsa or mambo to.
And a Jamaican founding father of the genre like Laurel Aitken could hardly have done the stoically sustained ska rhythm of “Ego Killah” with a lot of reverb and tambourine rustling.
My earliest influence was Fela Kuti from my father’s CD collection. I’ve been making songs and noise since I was four. I was born with it, it’s in me.
Femi Koleoso, Ezra Collective drummer
It goes without saying that the Ezra Collective also crosses its fusion jazz with hip-hop, R’n’B and spoken word elements, which is what guest musicians like grime rapper Kojey Radical or soul singer Emeli Sandé stand for on this record.
One could argue at length about the philosophy or the concept of the Ezra Collective. But it’s also enough to listen carefully to a piece of “Where I’m Meant To Be”. There’s a snippet of a phone conversation drummer Femi Koloeso had with his idol, the late Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Tony Allen.
Allen says that at one point he said he wanted to do jazz. Everyone thought he wanted to play jazz like the Americans. But he says: “No, I do it my way”. Koloeso and his quintet also invented their own jazz.
Koloeso’s father came from Nigeria, and he heard the music of Fela Kuti, in whose band Tony Allen drummed, when he was four, Femi said in an interview. The Ezra Collective is also about origin and belonging, about what it’s like to be black in London.
“Togetherness” and “Belonging” are the names of two pieces. Femi and his bassist brother TJ Koloeso, who grew up in Tottenham, formed the band with friends in 2012.
They were teenagers at the time and met at Tomorrow’s Warriors, a music school at the South Bank Center in London. They released debut album You Can’t Steal My Joy in 2019, touring sold out clubs, performing at a Quincy Jones birthday party and at the Glastonbury Festival. More pop fame is hardly possible for jazz musicians.
The Ezra Collective is also about origin and belonging, about what it’s like to be black in London. “Togetherness” and “Belonging” are keywords, that’s the name of two pieces. The band was formed in 2012 by two brothers from Tottenham, drummer Femi and bassist TJ Koloeso together with friends.
At that time they were still teenagers, they had met at the “Tomorrow’s Warriors”, a music education center at the South Bank Center in London. They released debut album You Can’t Steal My Joy in 2019, touring the UK to sell-out clubs, performing at a Quincy Jones birthday party and the Glastonbury Festival.
While earlier recordings were largely made under live conditions, the 14 tracks on the second album were recorded within 18 months during the corona lockdown. It is a far-reaching, at times also very elegant record, in which the greater maturity can also be felt.
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