2018: the year everyone became happy because the alternatives were too bleak. Bands started penning the joyful resistance; ecstasy in the face of austerity; the creative industry’s peaceful protest. It only figures that sustained joy would be the next stage of the revolution.
Ezra Collective’s debut album comes in as a kind of positive digestion system, leeching off your falsified happiness and replacing it with their authentic alternative. In so much as the south London jazz scene has erupted in the last twelve months, the young five-piece has been the pulsing heartbeat of the afrobeat and grime fusion at its core. Happiness and friendship is key: not only can you not steal their joy, you have to listen to it unravel and become even more joyful. What more did you expect from the band that wrote a slightly chic, breezy jazz-pop track about the Star Wars Franchise’s Mace Windu?
Bandleader Femi Koleoso on drums is the frantic spirit of the record, the convulsing centrepiece in ‘Why You Mad?’, the cheeky ska undertones that more than nod to UB40 in ‘Red Whine’. It doesn’t matter that the key-driven ‘Philosopher II’ sounds like Tubular Bells for solo piano; ‘São Paulo’ strikes with all the rock’n’roll samba flair of Santana at Woodstock, while ‘Chris and Jane’ takes the Ninth Circle soul of a Danny Krivit club mix and filters it through Dylan Jones’s doleful trumpet in ‘People Saved’.
Then there’s the electric ‘Quest For Coin’ – an instant classic within the unlikely monster hits for a new generation alongside The Comet Is Coming’s ‘Summon The Fire’ and Moses Boyd’s ‘Rye Lane Shuffle’. It’s even enough to steal the headlines from the high-profile features of Loyle Carner and Jorja Smith, which make nice additions to the team sheet if nothing else.
You Can’t Steal My Joy is more than just a spiritual Mahavishnu marching band. As far as nu-jazz rising and jazz fusion will curtail, this is a pop album at its apex; a catchy and carefree excursion into joy. At the heart of a bubbling scene without a point of entry for many, Ezra Collective stand with their arms wide open.