April 18, 2024

Ezra Collective – Live in Leeds 2022 – “everyone a soloist, everyone tighter than tight”

Belgrave Music Hall     6th November 2022    

It is significant that the bass arrives on stage first, starts playing and the drums follow. It is only once the rhythm section is in place that the other three arrive (keys, trumpet and sax). It makes the point that this is a band of equals and what happens on the back row is as important as the front, providing more than a beat. The drumming is intense and precise, while the bass is detailed and tight. As Femi Koleoso, who leads from the drums, tells the audience, they all studied in music colleges or universities and it shows. He gets a big cheer when he mentions Leeds Conservatoire and it’s clear there are a lot of the jazz course in tonight. He’s uncool enough to be delighted with the day’s 5* Guardian Review “reviews are like presents – it’s okay to be pleased when you get one you like but important to not be disappointed when you get one you don’t like”, he says.

The musicianship would be nothing without the vibe and the vibe is excellent. The beats are many and varied, the tunes great, and everything is happy and inspired. This is a band celebrating their second album, recorded with the loving and supportive funds of fans and triumphally received tonight. The audience is very much up for it and the small venue nicely full. Beats range from Salsa to Afrobeat (Fela Kuti is named checked and Tony Allen quoted on the album) to reggae and further out. Time signatures switch about happily and the hat is tipped to the classic jazz standards when ‘Smile’ is reworked. Charlie Chaplin’s only well-known song, it provides a base for showing off jazz chops at a slower tempo. This isn’t just a party band but can do the chops and swing the groove too.

Led from the rear by Koleoso , the band look to him for cues and tunes turn on a dime. From the opening ‘No Confusion’ and ‘Welcome To My World’ Latin hotness to the martial reggae of ‘Togetherness / Ego Killah’, the opening sequence is exciting and the double-speed dub bluebeat thrilling. ‘Siesta’ works great as a cool instrumental (the album has a number of vocals across it) and ‘Live Strong’ has an air of a Blue Note horn groover meeting smooth lounge noodle before the wide-ranging ‘Belonging’ gives the keys a chance to shine. With a crazed expression and some very seventies sounds, the keys have been one of the five highlights (the other four are the other four instruments). It sounds like ‘Love In Outer Space’ is going to send us off but an old tune or two pops up with some speedy salsa and a huge drum solo.

Like the album, the evening is heavy on funk and grooves, piano fun, smart drums, plenty of horns – used anywhere between full blast, gentle propulsion and intricate solo. This is the highest quality of danceable jazz but with no make-weights in the band – everyone a soloist, everyone tighter than tight. Combining easy accessibility with top muso chops and jazz kudos takes ninja-level skills. This band is playing at the upper level of British jazz and at take-off point for much wider recognition.

About Author