Ezra Collective are back, and the 5-man London jazz quintet are just incapable of disappointing.
Those unfamiliar with jazz generally associate it with sombre clubs and a polite audience. Ezra have a unique knack for making jazz accessible to all, keeping the genre youthful and vibrant. The huge features on this album contribute to this: Emeli Sandé and Nao are household names, and Sampa the Great is on the rise. Further, Kojey Radical – following previous collaborations with Dave, Loyle Carner, Novelist and JME – fits Ezra’s track record of working with revered, distinctly-London artists across the broad ‘rap’ spectrum. The benefit of these collaborations is very much reciprocal: to be associated with Ezra Collective’s inimitable sound indicates musical acumen.
What blows my mind, though, is the number of genre fusions on this album. They somehow manage to do justice to such a vast plethora of musical influences, while maintaining a distinct trademark sound throughout. Their call-and-response dynamic features a syncopated drum beat and steady bass, allowing the wandering, expeditious saxophone and trumpet to dance off one another. Where I’m Meant To Be introduces keyboard experimentation, which works strikingly (the complex solo on ‘Live Strong’ is notable). Ezra Collective have established a brand for themselves, a distinct feel-good funk that remains central to this album.
And still, ‘Life Goes On’ samples Fela Kuti’s ‘Shakara’ but mars it with neo-soul hip-hop. ‘Victory Dance’ sounds like Afro-Cubism (a painfully underrated genre). The West African highlife on ‘Welcome To My World’ is combined with a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean sounding 3-3-2 drumbeat. ‘Togetherness’ is my personal favourite – the opening, a nod to Ini Kamoze’s ‘World A Reggae’, sets up a strongly Caribbean influenced track. Their take on dubstep reggae is a worthy homage to London sound system culture (the likes of Aba Shanti-I), emphasised by the uncredited but unmistakable vocals from Jorja Smith. ‘Ego Killah’ maintains this but draws more from ska for a more laid-back sound. Ezra Collective also looks to jazz antiquity, adding an innovative groove to the standard ‘Smile’.
‘Siesta’ slows down the pace, with psychedelic soul vocals over a gentle polyrhythmic push. ‘Belonging’ is extraordinary: without lyrics, it moves you to dance, but simultaneously to think. ‘Never the Same Again’ and ‘Love in Outer Space’ (the concluding tracks) take a gentle, trickling piano lick over a rain stick and shakers. Nothing about Ezra Collective is ever melancholy – they ooze positivity even when producing something pensive. The result is almost enlightening as you leave the album.
I think the future of modern jazz is in finding cross-cultural genre blends. In today’s highly globalised world, the possibilities are endless, as Ezra Collective have so successfully demonstrated. Where I’m Meant To Be is an absolutely essential listen and an invaluable addition to the soundscape of modern funk and jazz.