This was special. A night that breathed new life into the old cliche of music’s ability to unite. It saw a perfect combination of two bands that could make inanimate objects dance, in front of an audience that was intent on having a good time. Tonight saw London’s Ezra Collective bring their sensational afrobeat-meets-jazz fusion to the party, alongside Normanton Street, yet another group that are showing the full range and quality of Brighton’s music scene. Together they created a show to be remembered.
During Normanton Street’s limb-loosening support slot, Phoebe Freya supplied the soul which perfectly bounced off the hip-hop edge of Ned Archibong and Nicholson Davids. With a simple yet incredibly tight rhythm, it was an infectious combination. Freya had a real star quality – beaming, laughing or singing along in the background whenever one of the others took the limelight. However, it was Davids that shone the brightest though, taking the set to a whole new dimension with each rap – ‘Take Time’ being a perfect example of the different elements coming together to make something special.
In the lull between support and main act, it was obvious that Ezra Collective are one of those rare bands that attract fans of all genres. Hipsters, skaters and tattooed rockers mingled with a hip-hop crowd, making it an eclectic mix that perfectly matches the group themselves. As the five-piece band took to the stage, opening with the deceptively simple rhythm of ‘The Philosopher’ from this year’s Juan Pablo EP, the neon DANCE sign in the venue had never been more appropriate. It was a sensational start that showcased all of the disparate qualities of the band to the max, with each member having a moment in the spotlight as the track snaked to its conclusion like a slow and winding jazz river. With Dylan Jones (trumpet) and James Mollison (saxophone) seemingly able to sound both mournful and euphoric at the same time, it was an electrifying piece of afrobeat-tinged jazz.
It is the combination of styles and influences that drive Ezra Collective to heights seldom seen at a live show. With a dreamy, almost psychedelic feel, Joe Armon-Jones’ keyboard style knitted perfectly with Femi Koleoso’s ferociously powerful drumming. Hidden mostly in the background, Femi’s brother TJ took over at points with a bassline that underpinned the entire performance. Bassists are often the unsung heroes, and this was absolutely true tonight – TJ adding a somewhat slinky feel to many of the pieces. It was clear that the band love the act of playing together, with Jones and Mollison standing off to the side at times just to watch the others before re-joining the action with exquisite timing to wild cheers.
There was a heartfelt gratitude from Femi as he introduced ‘People In Trouble’. Thanking the crowd for, “Helping to fix the world”, he spoke about how their aim was always to make music for people who were “just out to all have a good time together”. Audience members who were perfect strangers at the start of their show were swapping warm embraces by its end, sharing in a communal aspect that is sadly often missing from other genres of music. As a cover of Sun Ra’s ‘Space Is The Place’ evolved from a slow and steady saxophone intro into an absolute banger by its ending, every onlooker danced together like their lives depended on it.
As the show ended with ‘Juan Pablo’, described by Femi as “A partying song”, the night became almost undescribable – as if words haven’t been created yet that can capture the emotions and energy pouring out of this incredibly talented band. The beat and rhythm, the atmosphere from the crowd, the sheer joy on everyone’s faces in the room all added up to a quite overwhelming finale. This is a band that need to be experienced to be fully understood, a group that show no interest in any music tribalism but, instead, simply continue gathering followers from across a vast musical spectrum. The collective is growing. Make sure you don’t miss out on joining them when they are next in town.