For a while now, something exciting has been bubbling in London. A British jazz renaissance free of the conservatoire snobbery that has turned many away from this once free-spirited sound. Tight-knit groups of collaborators, playing mostly in hot spots like Total Refreshment Centre, have rekindled the fire, released the death grip surrounding British jazz and introduced a new flavour to the next generation.
This scene was once the reserve of people in the know, but it couldn’t stay secret for too long. Thanks in part to Brownswood Recordings’ electric compilation ‘We Out Here’, artists like Nubya Garcia have started to fill venues beyond the M25 too. Suddenly, jazz doesn’t feel like this stuffy, alienating world. Suddenly, jazz feels open, exciting and, most interestingly, ready to crossover into the mainstream without sacrificing anything that makes it so spontaneous.
It’s at this point that Ezra Collective’s debut, ‘You Can’t Steal My Joy’, enters the fray. Potent, rebellious, and uplifting, ‘You Can’t Steal My Joy’ feels like the first release from that scene that is ready to stretch beyond it. With the help of Jorja Smith and Loyle Carner, this is jazz at its most accessible to a chart audience. Not because it’s simple or cookie cutter; it’s far from it. But because the album’s influences feel more familiar.
Ezra Collective appear in the ‘We Out Here’ documentary jamming to Shanks & Bigfoot’s 1999 smash “Sweet Like Chocolate”, and it’s here that that crossover appeal becomes clear. This is a group inspired as much by Sweet Female Attitude as they are the Miles Davis Quintet. UK garage and R&B are in their DNA; jazz is in their blood. It’s a mixture that’s seriously intoxicating.
The sheer enthusiasm at every turn shines through. Whether it’s Dylan Jones’ trumpet or Joe Armon-Jones on keys, you can practically see the nods of approval or the mouthing of encouragement from their bandmates as they each get a turn in the spotlight. The spirited musicianship is enough to make you want to pick up an instrument and dive head first in with them.
Latin rhythms on ‘Sao Paulo’ and ‘Chris and Jane’, smooth beats on 'What Am I To Do?' and ‘Space Is The Place (Reprise)’; ‘You Can’t Steal My Joy’ is a journey through the music that shaped these five young Londoners. Even dub gets a run out on the smoky “Red Whine”. It’s an eminently listenable debut that perfectly walks the tricky tight rope between approachable and vibrantly frenetic.
‘You Can’t Steal My Joy’ is a document of a new time. A new generation. Of the old vanguard resolutely being shown the door. Of a genre being opened up to everyone, whether they live and breathe jazz or they get ready for a night out to the sounds of Kisstory. Records like Nubya Garcia’s ‘Nubya’s 5ive’ or Theon Cross’ ‘Fyah’ have already shown the incredible talent that’s starting to shine through, but ‘You Can’t Steal My Joy’ feels like the record that’s ready to lead the uninitiated of all walks of life into this world.