Theon Cross is something of a tuba phenomenon on the new young London jazz scene; his virtuosity, imagination and sheer stamina on the unwieldly brass monster have powered such of the pivotal outfits as Cassie Kinoshi’s Seed Ensemble, Moses Boyd’s Exodus and, of course, Shabaka Hutchings’ current Mercury-nominated, globetrotting Sons Of Kemet. His huge tone and powerful rhythmic chops have been a defining characteristic of the Hutchings band; the amorphous, wooly low end, often doubled with electronically generated sub-bass, is perfect for evoking the kind of contemporary urban club styles that this cohort of musicians turn to for inspiration, while the tradition of the ‘brass bass’ simultaneously links back to the earliest beginnings of jazz as a more communal, dance-based form; the sound is at once ancient and futuristic.
This record follows the template established by both Exodus and Kemet; the tuba lays down heavy, repetitive syncopated basslines (though Cross also has the chops to solo convincingly when required) while the drums hammer out a groove and the sax dances over the top with simple, pentatonic riffs and melodies. Nubya Garcia steps into the role occupied by Hutchings – Activate and Letting Go show her bringing her own accessible melodic sensibility to the party, with the latter tune having a distinctly roots-reggae flavour with echoes of Dean Fraser in her keening lines. Fortunately Cross is also prepared to mix up the formula to an extent – Radiation has the currently hip dragging beat; Candace Of Meroe adds congas for a stripped back afrobeat vibe; Panda Village adds layers of electronica to the tuba for a more overtly grime feel; Ciya benefits from the addition of Artie Zaitz’s guitar and some extra harmonic and textural content, and some beautifully laid-back playing from Wayne Francis and Cross’ brother Nathaniel. LDN’s Burning revisits the Sons Of Kemet territory and matches that band in danceable ferocity.
Another artist who was similarly inclined to radical reinterpretations of the roots, Arthur Blythe, used brass bass on his early albums to similar effect; his collaborations with Bob Stewart were similarly pitched towards the past and future of the music. Cross adds his own distinctly London accent to the discussion, as part of this cohort of players whose constant cross-collaboration is such a feature of this scene, and this record feels like the latest episode in a series that they are all writing together.
Theon Cross, tuba; Moses Boyd, drums; Nubya Garcia, tenor saxophone (Tracks 1-4, 6 & 8); Wayne Francis (Ahnansé), tenor saxophone (Tracks 5 & 7); Artie Zaitz, electric guitar (Tracks 5 & 7); Tim Doyle, percussion (Track 5); Nathaniel Cross, trombone (Track 7).