The Ezra Collective keyboardist, a gifted pianist, pulls in contemporary London greats – including rapper Jehst – for this accomplished album
If Ezra Collective are the break-out stars of the booming contemporary London jazz scene, the band’s keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones is perhaps its cult hero. ‘Turn To Clear View’, his latest album, is lithe and deftly arranged. Over eight tracks, this solo record snakes between funk, dub, bass music and hip-hop – yet always retains the jazz-focused grooves to which its author is inextricably linked.
His piano work is exemplary on songs such as ‘Gnawa Sweet’, ‘Icy Roads (Stacked)’ and ‘(To) Know When You’re Coming’. As light hi-hats, muted kick-drums, saxophone and trumpet solos weave in and out of the arrangement, it becomes clear that Armon-Jones knows the importance of collaboration, ceding space for each instrument to shine.
Los Angeles-based vocalist Georgia Anne Muldrow is exceptional on ‘Yellow Dandelion’, which, with its gospel funk motifs and lyrical affirmation that “healing truth lives in power”, sounds like it belongs in the ‘70s. The song’s chorus is infectious and Muldrow’s voice is honeyed and soothing.
The heart of this record can be found in the track ‘The Leo & Aquarius’ . It’s a soulful and textured song, UK rap artist Jehst delivering emotional bars flecked with humour: “I would kill for my daughter / like Arnie in Commando”.
On the penultimate track, ‘You Didn’t Care’, frequent Armon-Jones and Ezra Collective collaborator Nubya Garcia plays a lung-busting saxophone solo that evokes jazz greats such as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Art Pepper; the likeness is in her sheer depth, length and range. It’s also the most upbeat track on the album, marrying modern club music with grooves reminiscent of laid-back ‘60s soul and bebop.
As ‘Turn To Clear View’ builds to a fitting climax; ‘Self:Love’ is a worthy end to the album. London-based Nigerian artist Obongjayar, with his distinctive vocal melodies, repeats “Be Yourself” over playful, dubby basslines. Lyrics such as, “You keep running from your skin / Everyday you’re someone different / You don’t know where you begin” convey Obongjayar’s ideas of self-love over stripped-back, playful and exciting production.
If anything, ‘Turn To Clear View’ feels too short, as if Armon-Jones has more in his pocket to offer. The accomplished pianist has made a record that would make both jazz aficionados and those new to the genre feel at ease. ‘Turn To Clear View’ showcases both the cross-pollination and multiculturalism of London, while distinguishing Armon-Jones as an artist whose tastes are as varied as they are exceptional.
Release date: September 20
Record label: Brownswood Recordings