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