Ezra Collective: New Gen Jazz vanguard front-up at The Verdict

Ezras1

Word’s getting out across town about the ‘New Generation Jazz’ project and their continuing efforts to get the freshest talent playing in Brighton. Tonight’s gig is standing room only at the back, and there’s still a queue of hopefuls trying to get tickets. The event is the latest in a fruitful association with the Tomorrow’s Warrior’s stable; after equally packed shows from Groundation, Nerija and Moses Boyd’s Exodus, it’s the turn of drummer Femi Koleoso’s Ezra Collective to bring their own take on the tradition to The Verdict.

The band started attracting attention in 2014 by filtering other music styles, like Bob Marley’s roots reggae, through the classic hard-bop tenor-trumpet frontline. Their first set tonight takes a reverse journey, by reinterpreting the modern standard repertoire through the prism of contemporary rhythm. This approach gives us a scalding version of Herbie Hancock’s ‘Eye Of The Hurricane” over a tricky M-Base style odd-meter funk, and a reading of ‘Footprints’ whose shifting introduction finally emerges as an exuberant Afro-beat. Playing Charlie Chaplin’s evergreen ‘Smile’ over a mid-tempo sub-Saharan groove sounds like an idea that shouldn’t work, but the sincerity of James Mollison on tenor and Dylan Jones on trumpet lifts the tune clear out of pastiche territory, and the rhythm team’s deep groove is an uplifting triumph.

Koleoso is a relaxed and affable host, his personality balancing the intensity of the music as he introduces the second set of originals from the unit's upcoming Chapter 7 release. Bassist TJ Koleoso holds centre stage, eschewing flashy pyrotechnics to forge an unshakeably solid partnership with brother Femi’s effortless polyrhythms, over which the soloists have plenty of space to do their thing. ‘Enter the Jungle’ is a pulsing two-chord groove, while ‘The Philosopher’ charts out similar territory, with open-ended structures allowing the band’s collective charisma to shine through. In this tight-knit group, pianist Joe Armon Jones still stands out. His composition ‘Chasing The Square” demonstrates the effective tag-team of in-the-pocket trumpet with Dave Mollison’s more relaxed, bop-like tenor. But the pianist’s moment to shine comes with the ensemble’s reading of Nigerian Baptist hymn, ‘I Have God’, delivering a stupendous solo, full of emotion and creativity, taking the whole club with him every step.

The band leader takes a moment to explain the Ezra ethos of musical cooperation. To illustrate, they close with a blistering medley of Fela Kuti tunes, mashing up Tony Allen’s timeless beat with grime-style drops and breakdowns, with both horn players excelling themselves. Theirs is a confidently-realised vision, which raises expectations for the forthcoming record. Take into account that the group’s youngest band member only left secondary school last September and all this becomes all the more impressive.

     Eddie Myer

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