Star People Nation - Theo Croker (Album Review)
Star People Nation
Released: 17 May 2019
Masterworks / DDB Records
Album Rating: 4.5/5
Live Potential: 4/5
Solo Performances: 4/5
Diversity in Songs: 5/5
Favourite Songs: ‘Subconscious Flirtation and Titillations’ (track 3), ‘Portrait of William’ (track 5), ‘Understand Yourself feat. Chronixx’ (track 10)
Star People Nation is trumpeter, producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist
Theo Croker’s fifth studio album and perhaps his most personal project yet. Croker describes the album as an intimate exploration of “the everyday rituals of blackness”. The ten-track album is a translation of his personal and spiritual experience, a self-reflective collection of provocative, powerfully passionate and boundary crossing compositions that aims to reflect Croker’s inner thoughts and asks us as listeners to introspect with him.
Grandson of the late great trumpeter Doc Cheatham and former student of legendary jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd, Theo Croker is firmly placed within a lineage of legendary trumpet players. Croker first introduced his singular style in 2014 on the Dee Dee Bridgewater-assisted Afro Physicist. His 2016 follow-up, Escape Velocity, marked a watershed moment for the artist, with the Wall Street Journal praising the album as “timeless and of-the-moment” and earning him the accolade of ‘Best UK Jazz Album’ 2016 by Echoes magazine.
With Star People Nation, Croker builds upon Escape Velocity through greater use of sampling, electronics and outside influences. The record features a host of guests, including vocalist Rose Gold, Jamaican vocalist Chronixx, keyboardist ELEW and drummers Eric Harland and Kassa Overall (who earlier this year released a phenomenal album Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz). Croker traverses through a variety of jazz influenced tunes, opening with ‘Have You Come to Stay’ (track 1) which curves beautifully as the song grows, rises, unleashes a fiery Kamasi Washington-esque solo (from saxophonist Irwin Hall) before returning to calm. We experience more laid-back grooves with ‘Getaway Gold feat. Rose Gold’ (track 2), African inspired tunes with ‘Alkebulan’ (track 9), dub vibes with ‘Understand Yourself feat. Chronixx’ (track 10) and more traditional jazz numbers, speckled with electronic touches, with ‘Just Let it Ride’ (track 6) and ‘The Messenger feat. ELEW’ (track 8). Clearly, Croker is unafraid of venturing into both the familiar and unfamiliar with Star People Nation.
It is relatively hard to judge individual performances, as Croker relies more on song craft than solos to fill this album. However, there are some memorable moments with a funky and effortless flute solo by Irwin Hall on ‘Crestfallen’ (track 7) and a bold and jaunty keys solo by ELEW matched by Hall’s sax response on ‘The Messenger’ (track 8). Of course, Croker is rightfully placed within the spotlight in Star People Nation. Whether he is floating, blaring, gliding or trilling, Croker plays with gravitas. The trumpeter is impressively able to mould and adjust his playing to suit whatever the style of the song. What is also striking is the way in which he moves seamlessly between playing a commanding solo and then merging with the rest of the band, seemingly never wanting to show off or command too much of our attention.
Although the content is not ground-breaking, Star People Nation is a fantastic jazz fusion record which dips into many different styles that helps give the record extra flare and spice. The album is a deeply personal exploration of Croker’s identity, which demonstrates his adept ability to create, compose and play with vigour and maturity.
Theo Croker – Trumpet; Irwin Hall – Alto Saxophone & Flute; Mike King – Piano; Eric Wheeler – Bass; Kassa Overall – Drums.
Purchase the album here: https://theocroker.lnk.to/StarPeopleNationAW