By Alex W. Rodríguez | Published June 2019
With its debut recording, London-based quintet Ezra Collective offers a fresh and funky spin on the thriving jazz moment emanating from the British capital. The group is the latest among a young cohort of Londoners to make their U.S. debut, completing a nationwide tour in March. Its sound is a confident admixture of jazz experimentalism and Afro-diasporic touches—from the laid-back reggae groove of “Red Whine” to Afrobeat jam “Shakara.” But the group stakes its claim to a jazz lineage on the first track, a purposeful cover of Sun Ra’s “Space Is The Place.”
Ensemble balance showcases the strength and versatility of drummer Femi Koleoso, whose creativity often is brought to the front of the mix. This is done to especially great effect on lead single “Quest For Coin,” which opens with a striking drumset feature before layering in the other instruments. Saxophonist James Mollison and trumpeter Dylan Jones exhibit the front-line telepathy that is a hallmark of great jazz quintets, whether playing melodic lines or improvising atmospheric flourishes. The band also incorporates effective guest appearances on three tracks. Vocalist Jorja Smith takes a soulful turn on “Reason In Disguise,” with Loyle Carner providing a convincing rap chorus over “What Am I To Do?” And on “Shakara,” Koleoso is fully unleashed into an ebullient groove with Afrobeat ensemble KOKOROKO providing additional depth.
You Can’t Steal My Joy—though a bit rough around the edges—features an ambitiously creative ensemble and suggests that the group has a long and fruitful musical path ahead.
You Can’t Steal My Joy: Space Is The Place (Reprise); Why You Mad?; Red Whine; Quest For Coin; Reason In Disguise; What Am I To Do?; Chris And Jane; People Saved; Philosopher II; São Paulo; King Of The Jungle; You Can’t Steal My Joy; Shakara. (53:37)
Personnel: Femi Koleoso, drums; TJ Koleoso, bass; Joe Armon-Jones, keyboards; Sheila Maurice-Grey, Dylan Jones, trumpet; James Mollison, tenor saxophone; Cassie Kinoshi, alto saxophone; Richie Seivwright, trombone; Jorja Smith (5), Loyle Carner (6) vocals; Onome Edgeworth, percussion.