By John Murph | Published April 2019
In the loose-knit cadre of young British jazz musicians, which gloriously was captured on Brownswood Recordings’ 2017 compilation and documentary We Out Here, tuba player Theon Cross is its secret sauce. Whether he’s anchoring the pulverizing frenzy of Shabaka Hutchings’ Sons Of Kemet or lending rhythmic heft to South London combo Steam Down, Cross’ stout tuba riffs and berserk smears help distinguish the scene’s sonic imprint.
On Fyah, a follow-up to his 2015 debut EP, Aspirations, he recruits frequent collaborators tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia and drummer Moses Boyd on spartan, dub-like sketches where Caribbean and West African rhythms collide with UK underground hip-hop and electronica, and of course, modern jazz. In most cases, Cross functions as the fulcrum, issuing bouncy, bottom-heavy motifs beneath Boyd’s strenuous drumming, which sometimes prances with ebullient soca rhythms or swaggers with the menace of London’s grime scene. It makes for intriguing, hypnotic music, especially the lurking “Activate” and the rugged “Radiation.” But the music’s over-reliance on choppy riffs, astringent melodies and stern grooves also can come across like overcooked, yet underdeveloped, compositional ideas.
“CIYA” is the closest Fyah comes to a ballad; and it provides a more compelling vehicle for Cross to showcase a fully developed compositional sensibility as he issues the lulling melody alongside saxophone, guitar and trombone, before delivering a sensual, melodically cogent solo. More tunes like that would have helped Fyah burn even more brightly.
Fyah: Activate; The Offerings; Radiation; Letting Go; Candace Of Meroe; Panda Village; CIYA; LDN’s Burning. (43:19)
Personnel: Theon Cross, tuba; Moses Boyd, drums; Nubya Garcia, Wayne Francis (5, 7), tenor saxophone; Tim Doyle, percussion (5); Artie Zaitz (5, 7), guitar; Nathaniel Cross (7), trombone.