Theon Cross

Theon Cross you will recall from Sons of Kemet (he took over from the original tuba player Oren Marshall) and is well known on the London scene. Cross flickered first on marlbank’s radar on Tom Challenger’s raucous Brass Mask Live that came out two years ago and was an out-there gospelly New Orleans confection.

This is very different. Tuba it is easy to forget is extremely unusual in contemporary jazz because, of course, the bass we nearly always hear is provided by a double bass or bass guitar.

Recorded at the Soup studio in London what we have here is a trio on six of the tracks (Cross with saxist Nubya Garcia and drummer Moses Boyd) expanded to a different quintet on the remaining two (Cross with his brother trombonist Nathaniel Cross, Tim Doyle on percussion, Artie Zaitz on electric guitar and Wayne Francis on tenor sax).  


The first thing that you notice on opener ‘Activate’ is the thunderously captured tuba sound. Gearbox are very good at getting a full sound and given that this will be issued on vinyl (I am listening on a digital copy) the sound will be even more riotously immediate.

‘Activate’ has a simplicity to it and becomes a conversation between tuba and sax that certainly summons up the atmosphere of a Sons of Kemet record. Cross takes a solo after the initial duelling which is OK but the initial fireworks stole the show. His strength throughout Fyah no fears is in rock solid beat in group-play not necessarily soloing which is actually very limited in terms of his role. The tuba is not cut out for that really.

Offerings’ has street noise in the background before the riff takes over and echoey sax from Garcia gives this track more of an African sensation and also gives you an idea of some fine production ideas in the sound engineering department. Again the tune is built on tiny building blocks, a little three-note motif, but it is not quite so compelling as the opener.

‘Radiation’ has a great groove going on, swung beats from Boyd that lay up and woozy polyphonic effects smear saxophone in to the middle of the sound. ‘Letting Go’ makes use of a delay as an underlay, the undertones emanating from Cross’s tuba beautifully caught, like the throb of the exhaust pipe on an old classic car. ‘Candace of Meroe’ has more of an African vibe and a lot more motion which Artie Zaitz feeds in to. His contribution on the few tracks he is on is massive.

On Panda Village’ Boyd opens using his sticks like a poker as the accent is established, Cross’s tunes are great at getting their point across and in the course of any given one the listener enters into a sort of hypnotic state brought on by the repetition, sheer size of the sound and ritual of it. ‘CIYA’ again with the larger group has much more of a modern jazz (NB in its 1960s sense) to it and there is a lovely mellow trombone sound beautifully arranged that moves this to a higher level and is certainly the marlbank pick of the album. 

‘LDN’s Burning’ at the end juggles rhythms in a maelstrom of frantic activity and the mix seems crowded and adds to the excitement and makes the group seem even larger than it is. SG

Quite a meaty one this, after a long intro that points to a free improv direction, instead there is a handsome jazz rock-like theme and then a return to a more experimental approach that simmers engagingly. You can pack a lot into 12 minutes – and thankfully so.

Son of Goldinger

Sun Of Goldfinger is pretty epic to watch out for to be released in early-March... the latest from David Torn, Tim Berne and Ches Smith.

An open ended deep listen coated in electric guitar and electronics and that tart, sensuous alto sax input of Tim Berne’s and inspired drumming of Smith’s, you won’t have heard anything as absorbing as this in a very, very long while. Craig Taborn and a string section and additional guitars also feature on the track titled ‘Spartan, Before It Hit.’  

Joshua Redman quartet

It has been quite a while since this Joshua Redman Quartet configuration has issued an album, some 20 years or so in fact since Redman last teamed up with Aaron Goldberg, Reuben Rogers and Gregory Hutchinson in the easy mainstream space that Redman has virtually made his own over the years.

Out in late-March (before then Redman is also over playing the Barbican in London with his Still Dreaming quartet later this month) this is full of bittersweet elegiac melody and lands if you like right in the middle stylistically of where jazz is these days, neither smooth nor full of extravagant avant garde gesture. Redman brings with him nonetheless an encyclopedia of saxophone prowess and in some ways nothing really has changed since we were introduced to him back in the 1990s.

Full of original tunes there is plenty here for newcomers to jazz and old hands alike. For sure one thing that Redman never forgets is how to shape a melody and draw on his emotional side and with this band manages to underline his key approach so convincingly once again.

Photo: Arne Reimer

Singer Anthony Strong has a new record called Me & My Radio due out in April with a single due this week.

Look out for a launch at Zédel in London in late-April.

Tracks are drawn from classic Great American Songbook and more recent soul repertoire (the observant among you will note the title is plucked from the lyrics of ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ which opens the album. Other tracks include ‘Smile’, ‘Anything Goes’, ‘My Cherie Amour’ and ‘You To Me Are Everything.’

There is something quite cathartic about Nadir by Colin Webster and Mark Holub, a sax-drums combination that likes to push and push. Holub you’ll know from Led Bib, Webster from his frequent sightings on the UK free scene. Full of energy and a very unsmooth approach to improvising, there aren’t many tunes, much structure or neat harmonies but there is plenty of pulsing experimentation and almost a punk attitude to music making. Like taking a cold shower... no it is not background music. Worth a spin.