Ezra Collective performing live in London

The lights are out at the Royal Albert Hall. Through the pitch black, the voice of Ezra Collective drummer and bandleader Femi Koleoso delivers a message: “We’re about to turn this room into the most joy-filled place.” Spotlights hit the grand circle, where trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi and tenor saxophonist James Mollison launch the opening melody of ‘Ego Killah’ amid the plush red velvet seats of an enraptured audience. Bassist TJ Koleoso meanders coolly onstage, wielding his guitar like a weapon, and pianist Joe Armon-Jones settles in behind him. When Femi blasts into life, his younger brother pumps his fists gleefully. An air of triumph lingers throughout the night, in a landmark celebration of London’s blossoming jazz scene.

Ezra Collective, formed in 2011 by a group of friends from Janine Irons and Gary Crosby’s legendary jazz programme Tomorrow’s Warriors, recently rubberstamped their status as this scene’s biggest success story by winning the 2023 Mercury Prize for ‘Where I’m Meant To Be’. Their wide-ranging influences — typifying the movement’s eclecticism — are heard tonight in the Afro-funk rhythm of ‘No Confusion’, the salsa groove of ‘Victory Dance’ (performed in the pit inside a crowd corridor of their own making), and the horn section’s borrowing of the melody from Damian Marley’s dub classic ‘Welcome To Jamrock’.

Ezra Collective performing live in London
Ezra Collective performing live in London. Credit: Joseph Okpako/WireImage

A stream of guests roll in and out; Emeli Sandé brings soft, lounging vocals to ‘Siesta’, grime legend JME forgets a couple of bars but adds a “Serious!” bounce to ‘Quest For Coin’, while Loyle Carner‘s arrival for ‘What Am I To Do?’ is greeted with huge cheers, particularly during a second verse which he freestyles on the spot. Each band member gets their chance to shine, hyping each other’s solos energetically and skanking constantly.

Their decade-plus-long journey weighs heavily throughout the night. “It’s so beautiful that with my same brothers, we’ve managed to go from pub to slightly bigger pub, tiny club to bigger jazz club… now we’re here at Royal Albert Hall!” Koleoso tells the crowd in an emotional interlude. They’re the first-ever jazz act to go from playing RAH’s 200-capacity Elgar Room to selling out the main auditorium – it feels significant.

Femi promises “We’re not at the top of the mountain yet,” but the group’s lofty status is reflected by a hint toward the next generation; for explosive, confetti-laden penultimate track ‘Juan Pablo’, the quintet are joined onstage by KINETIKA, a huge group of talented young dancers and instrumentalists who amplify the climax of two hours of vibrant, expressive London jazz. Just like we were promised, Ezra Collective’s milestone show is defined by joy.

Ezra Collective played:

‘Ego Killah’
‘Welcome to My World’
‘Love in Outer Space’
‘I Have a God’
‘You Can’t Steal My Joy’
‘Hear My Cry’
‘Victory Dance’
‘Pure Shade’
‘No Confusion’
‘Life Goes On’
‘What Am I To Do’
‘Quest for Coin’
‘São Paulo’
‘Shaking Body’
‘Juan Pablo’
‘Chapter 7’

The post Ezra Collective live in London: a landmark moment for the Mercury Prize winners appeared first on NME.


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