The Ezra Collective member on London's booming jazz scene and his killer new album 'Turn To Clear View’
Joe Armon-Jones is not where he’s supposed to be. The keyboardist should be in Madrid playing a show; instead he’s in London with a fractured wrist, having fallen off his bicycle. It’s a blessing in disguise, as he needs some time off. Since the London jazz scene propelled itself onto the mainstream and skyrocketed into the global spotlight, the 26-year-old has been one of its busiest players.
His latest solo release, ‘Turn To Clear View’, is his second in as many years. Ezra Collective, a the nu-jazz ensemble with whom Armon-Jones plays keys, have also released multiple EPs and albums since 2017. And Armon-Jones finds himself touring constantly, either with Ezra Collective or for his solo work. Now, though, he’s feeling refreshed: “I’ve had a little break because of my wrist innit.”
Speaking the day before ‘Turn To Clear View’ is released, he’s excited. Though he blends various genres throughout the eight tracks, making each one distinctive, it’s an album that deserves to heard all the way through. “The intention [was] to create something that is a project that is best enjoyed from start to finish,” he says. “It’s more rewarding if you sit down and listen to the whole thing.”
Collaboration is crucial
‘Turn To Clear View’ is packed with the genre fusions that have made Ezra Collective so popular. Incorporating gospel funk with bass-heavy club music, the album manages to flirt with different genres without marrying into any one of them exclusively. “It’s a natural thing that happens from the different people playing on the album,” Armon-Jones explains.
“Being in London, with the different kinds of music you get exposed to, I don’t think about [genres]. I just let the musicians do their thing. Everyone has their influences, inspirations and they’ll put their feeling into it. It’s not discussed or spoken about. Now and then, I come around with, ‘This is going to be a strict dub tune”, but even then there is space for things to move away from that.”
A heavyweight guest list
Over eight tracks, Armon-Jones packs in a heavyweight guest list to brung his sound to life. Los Angles-based singer-songwriter Georgia Anne Muldrow demonstrates her powerful vocals for the uplifting track ‘Yellow Dandelion’; renowned UK rapper Jhest drops a humour-inflected verse on ‘The Leo & The Aquarius’; frequent collaborator Nubya Garcia comes through on ‘You Didn’t Care’, playing a lung-busting saxophone solo; and London-based Nigerian artist Obogjayar pulls off the strongest verse with his appearance on the album’s final track, ‘Self:Love.’
These collaborations, Armon-Jones explains, came about naturally. “They’re all just musicians I wanted to work with,” he says. “People like Jhest and Georgia, I’ve listened to their music for a long time, been a fan of theirs for a long time. When the opportunity came about, I sent Georgia the track to see what she was feeling.”
Joe Armon-Jones was born in Oxfordshire. The son of musician parents – his mum’s a singer and his dad’s a jazz piano player – he grew up playing the piano and watching his parents perform on stage. Having moved to London in 2011 to attend Trinity College, he worked with Tomorrow’s Warriors, a youth-focused educational creative agency that has helped shape the careers of the likes of acclaimed musicians Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia, and Shabaka Hutchings.
It’s also where Armon-Jones would meet the rest of the Ezra Collective crew. “I’d say Tomorrow’s Warriors are part of the reason I play today,” he explains. “I met most of the musicians I work with through Tomorrow’s Warriors. A lot of the advice I gained I got from Tomorrow’s Warriors.”
London jazz, baby
Joe Armon-Jones has strong connections in the thriving London jazz scene. In 2018, the influential DJ Gilles Peterson’s record label Brownswood released ‘We Out Here’, a compilation album featuring many of its stars, including Ezra Collective. Armon-Jones’ track ‘Go See’ made the cut, too.
“From that, my first album [‘Starting Today] kind of came about,” he recalls. “I recorded it and finished it myself and went to Brownswood, asking, ‘Do you want to fuck with it?’”
The cycle of creativity
That album was released in May last year. A few months after it came out, Armon-Jones had already conceptualised the next one. “I wrote and recorded the album almost a year ago last August,” he explains. “That’s how long it took me to finish it. It took about a week to write. Two days to record.
“I mix the album, but I can never quite get there,” Armon-Jones admits. “Once I’m nearly there, I go to the mixing engineer. That whole process was done and finished maybe two months ago. It’s kind of nice to give the whole project a year to live in. That’s how I see the cycle of creativity.”
On the reception of ‘Turn To Clear View’
“It’s a weird process,” he says of releasing the work. “You’ve spent an entire year on something and then on the first day, there’ll be reviews by people who have listened to some of it or the whole thing and made a decision about it on the day. ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’, basically, about your baby. It’s like people coming up to you on the street and being like, ‘Your kid’s ugly’, and you being like, ‘What?’ It’s a mad feeling.”