The modern confluence of reggae, hip-hop, electronic and Afro-beat music seeps to the surface of jazz in the talented young English quintet Ezra Collective. The band plays Barboza in Seattle on Friday, Dec. 13, touring the U.S. to celebrate their new full-length debut album, You Can't Steal My Joy.
Emerging out of the London youth jazz program Tomorrow's Warriors, they won the Yamaha Jazz Experience Competition in 2012 and also started getting the attention of young dance music fans.
In 2018, DJ/producer Gilles Peterson's influential Worldwide Awards bestowed their EP Juan Pablo: The Philosopher with the award for Jazz Album of the Year. They've repeatedly sold out London's famous jazz club Ronnie Scott's, and will surely pack tiny Barboza on Capitol Hill next Friday.
The Ezra Collective wears their influences proudly: Afro-beat meets modern rhythms, Latin and reggae and hip-hop, all tied together by a thorough jazz education. Atop this musical mix is the group's undeniable youthful energy and power. To attend an Ezra Collective performance requires dependable dancing shoes and maybe, in my case, some pre-concert stretching.
The group consists of brothers Femi and TJ Koleoso at the drums and bass, Joe Armon-Jones at the piano, Dylan Jones on trumpet and James Mollison featured on sax. The band's name gives away a spiritual side as well, a nod to a vocal biblical prophet who taught people about the past so they could understand the present. They also recognize that honoring the musical giants who paved their path is part of the jazz and blues tradition.
You Can't Steal My Joy opens with a reprise of their favorite cover song, Sun Ra's famous "Space is the Place," which they also visited on the five-song Juan Pablo EP. The band's sound blends the pulsing, driving rhythm section, iron-tight grooves, electric keys bouncing around the melody, horns layering in ensemble and venturing into adventurous solos.
There's a cover of Fela Kuti's "Shakara," featuring their fellow Londoners of the Afro-beat band KOKOROKO, and guest vocals from Jorja Smith and Loyle Carner are nicely spotlighted on a tune each. They're nice collaborations, but Ezra Collective's loose, danceable, modern sound dominates on all 13 tracks on the album.
You'll hear the album's title song on The New Cool this week. "You Can't Steal My Joy" leads with rhythm, the Koleoso brothers on bass and drums with Armon-Jones joining on keys. Trumpet and sax state the theme in unison, then begin a pair of tasty solos. Dylan Jones adds a touch of wah-wah pedal to his trumpet, then hands off to the talented Armon-Jones with some driving electric piano work. The rhythm section trio closes out with a loose jam at a ferocious tempo.
From peeks at their live shows, getting their listeners dancing is a high priority for this talented British "fab five." I hope to see you limber and ready to boogie at Barboza when Ezra Collective visits Seattle on Dec. 13. Until then, enjoy this Ezra Collective performance live at the legendary Glastonbury music festival earlier this year, featuring touring trumpet player Ife Ogunjobi:
The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.