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The New Cool: Nathaniel Cross presents his bold, brassy debut

Courtesy of First Word Records
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Trombonist, arranger, composer Nathaniel Cross steps out with his debut recording.

Nathaniel Cross is an arranger and trombone player from Southeast London, once called "The Quincy Jones of Catford" by Rolling Stone magazine. Besides that high-profile compliment, Cross has mostly flown under the radar as a composer, producer and sideman. Now, he enters the spotlight with his debut recording, The Description is Not the Described.

"So many of us are caught up in labels and descriptions that we end up looking at people for what they are, rather than embrace them for who they are," Cross says. "No matter how detailed the description is, it will never capture the essence."

The essence of Nathaniel Cross is the modern jazz of England; a jazz scene steeped in calypso, Afro-Cuban, hip-hop and electronica styles. Cross spent his own formative years in the Kinetika Bloco marching band organization, which drew some musical inspiration from the rhythmic melting pot of New Orleans.

Cross found his way deeper into jazz tradition when he discovered bebop-era trombone legend J.J. Johnson, and then fell under the spell of saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Cross' "Who Looks Inside, Awakes," the album's closing song, is based on Shorter's song "Sleeping Dancers Sleep On."

Along with pieces written for his recently deceased father ("Goodbye for Now") and Dr. Martin Luther King ("Light in the Darkness"), Cross' upbeat "Charge It to the Game" is the highlight.

Built atop sharp, Latin-meets-hip-hop beats, the song is brash and brassy with trombone and trumpet entwined through a catchy, galloping melody. The sound is hopeful and inspirational, with a message of overcoming adversity. To "charge it to the game" means that when something goes wrong, you chalk it up to experience and move on with that knowledge.

Cross is quickly moving on from obscurity with the four wonderful songs on The Description is Not the Described from London's largely hip-hop focused First Word Records.

He's been best known as the brother of Sons of Kemet tuba player Theon Cross, and as an arranger and sideman on the hit record Dark Matter from drummer Moses Boyd. But now Nathaniel Cross is ready to be heard. As it happens, you'll hear him on The New Cool on KNKX this Friday night. Tune in!

The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.

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