Opening with a brass rendition of Skepta’s grime-anthem, ‘Shutdown’, was perhaps the perfect way to introduce Ezra Collective and their sound and attitude to a fresh face of hip-shakers. It’s grimey, playful, very London-centric, and of course the buzzword: it’s jazz. In fact, they are trailblazers in the scene, as it was only a few weeks ago that keys wizard, Joe Armon Jones, played to a sold out crowd upstairs in the very same venue courtesy of Mr Bongo’s new Jazz Club night.
Patterns’ basement on the evening was packed out, so much that the band asked the crowd to use the space to the side of the stage, past the crash barriers – allowing the audience to spill onto the fringes, creating a wall of people around the musicians and an intimate inclusive after-hours vibe. The fluidity in which the collective responded to the audience was sublime, drummer Femi Koleoso opened the set proclaiming, “This is about joy and happiness and celebrating everything good. There are no boundaries to how you can express yourself – dance, shout, be mad quiet, or just stare into space”. Shortly after the band crash into ‘Juan Pablo’, an afro-beat-meets-jazz assault, with Femi going hard on the drum, and in a click of a finger, the basement becomes one unified sweaty party.
Reminiscing on their first gig in Brighton at The Verdict, over three years ago, it’s amazing to see how the band have evolved, coming such a long way in a short space of time. The energy of their live set is taken to new levels compared to their formative years – creating a truly captivating experience for the audience with tracks like ‘Mace Windu Riddim’. The energy levels pushed by the collective is endless yet casual, the band put on a show as much as a performance. With Femi leading the theatrical display, an almost gospel preacher talking about underground heroes and peers, championing the crowd, and the difficulties of making money in the labour of love that is independent music.
The highlight of the set was when the band dropped a short excursion of Shanks & Bigfoot’s legendary UKG hit ‘Sweet like Chocolate – almost an homage to the platitude of London sounds that give Ezra Collective their competitive edge, leaving the crowd roaring. Shortly followed by their staple, and idiosyncratic Sun Ra cover ‘Space is the Place’, where James Mollison comes into his own on scorching brass, and TJ Koleoso tear-jerker solo to open ‘People in Trouble.’
The crowd was sweaty and ready for a good time as Ezra fuse impromptu jazz with afrobeat rhythms, and disco sensibility. Joe Armon Jones paints the room with his flowing keys, TJ Koleoso adds the funk with his groove-laden bass playing, Dylan Jones and James Mollison float in and out of the body of performance with their sparse horn playing, while Femi is the driving force on the drums – marching the collective forwards. Every artist is allowed to show off their individual talents, unleashing jaw-dropping solos, competing while collaborating with one another, playfully pushing boundaries and each other’s abilities, advancing to the forefront of the Collective then retreating back into the soundscape to act as bed-rock support.
With a complete sell-out tour, Ezra Collective have become leading lights in the new wave of UK jazz – with this performance pushing for gig of the year. Ones to watch eternally, Ezra Collective are slowly but steadily becoming festival headline material and, with an album dropping early next year, becoming the main catalyst of this vibrant, interdisciplinary, and ever-evolving UK jazz scene. With boundless confidence and the skies the limit aspiration, we are very excited for their future, as the boundaries between club culture and jazz continue to break.
“Study what the prophet says and use it to move forward,” Femi proclaims.