Joe Armon-Jones is an impeccable keyboardist. If the jazz musician was to just bring out a collection of improvised solo pieces as his debut album, it’d still go down well, there’d be little to talk about here other than “this dude sure can play the keys, right?”. Thankfully, there’s a lot to dig into on ‘Starting Today’, a project where Armon-Jones feels more like a leader of a diverse collective than a flashy part. The titular nine-minute opener showcases energetic percussion, gritty bass playing and a charismatic vocal from Ashebar, the keys contrasting with spacey, off-kilter stabs. The momentum and clear structure leads to a wonderful payoff as horns gradually well, and players let loose with their solos.
The record isn’t afraid to mellow out, either. Highlight ‘Mollison’s Dub’ is a slinky, shadowy jam filled with corners to explore on repeat listens. It also benefits from youthful, detailed production that colours transitions and ornaments with added vibrancy. The crisp approach keeps the song engaging throughout.
At moments, the band’s affinity for their popular jazz contemporaries is unavoidable. The harmonies on ‘Almost Went Too Far’ feel like pure Thundercat worship, and a slightly shakey verse from Big Sharer on ‘Ragify’ comes off as a clunkier take on the jazz-rap blend done by bands like Koi Child.
When the album comes together, it’s as strong as anything coming out of the London scene. It’s a wonderfully accessible approach, that doesn’t lose any of the complexity or magic of winding song lengths in favour of subtle nods to electronica and hip-hop.