You Can't Steal My Joy - Ezra Collective (Album Review)
Updated: May 21, 2019
You Can’t Steal My Joy
26 April 2019
Enter The Jungle
Album Rating 3 / 5
Live Potential 4 / 5
Solo Performances 3.5 / 5
Diversity in Songs 4 / 5
Favourite Songs São Paulo, Shakara, Reason in Disguise, You Can’t Steal My Joy, Space is the Place
The long-awaited full release from London five-piece Ezra Collective has arrived, and You Can’t Steal My Joy offers a gateway for mainstream music lovers to the UK jazz scene as the group incorporate a wide array of influences to produce a brave performance.
After gaining success and popularity from their previous Chapter 7 and Juan Pablo: The Philosopher EPs and a host of singles like ‘Pure Shade’ and ‘Mace Windu Riddim’, the band have become one of the flagbearers for the emerging jazz scene from London featuring many young, black musicians. As heard through the three singles released before the debut album, there has been a little shift to write and collaborate with more popular artists and potentially break out of the jazz scene and introduce their music to a wider audience.
‘Reason in Disguise’ features the multiple-Brit Awards winner Jorja Smith in a very accomplished RnB number, and ‘What Am I to Do?’ has Loyle Carner delivering his musings fluidly and smoothly in a lo-fi style. These tracks both deliver as singles but in the context of the album, they stick out more like Ezra being a backup band to the two artists, as there’s not enough expression of their own individuality we are used to hearing from the group. The latest single ‘Quest For Coin’ showcases more self-expression but compared to other tracks in the album, seems more like an average funk-bopper as the horns section have more conviction in other tracks.
Ezra start off with a reprise of their Sun Ra cover ‘Space is the Place’ from their previous EP, which offers RnB Neo-Soul vibes similar to their first two singles. ‘Why You Mad?’ follows in with low-end bass, cymbal washes and delicately jabbed piano notes before a forced onslaught of power that seems a bit out of control, especially from the usually tight drums of Femi Koleoso (Jorja Smith, Sarah Tandy, Nubya Garcia). The group then start to demonstrate more of their influences as the reggae-ska tune ‘Red Whine’ has a delightful groove which TJ Koleoso pushes his bass well alongside the jaunty piano of Joe Armon-Jones (Joe Armon-Jones, Nubya Garcia, Mr Jukes) as James Mollison (Cykada, Where Pathways Meet, Malika Collective) leads the group well on the sax.
The afrobeat bopper ‘Chris and Jane’ starts promisingly but the liveliness and upbeat horns stabs at the start are not sustained throughout the whole song. ‘People Saved’ continues the afrobeat excursion with a more refined performance as the keys, trumpet and drums all have more dexterity in their solos. The title track ‘You Can’t Steal My Joy’ adds more funk as this tune is one of the most danceable ones on the album, with both the solos of Dylan Jones (Pyjaen, Malika Collective) on trumpet and Armon-Jones on keys moving with much more ease at this faster speed. They collaborate with fellow Londoners and afro-beatmakers KOKOROKO on their Fela Kuti cover of ‘Shakara’ which for all of the nods to afrobeat on the album, works the best to demonstrate how powerful and energetic they can be together.
After the warm and melodic piano interlude of ‘Philosopher II’ to build on from its prequel track on Juan Pablo: The Philosopher EP, both ‘São Paulo’ and ‘King Of The Jungle’ are the best examples of Ezra being able to form a party atmosphere. The Latin-esque ‘São Paulo’ has a killer bass line that is enhanced by the thud of the drums whilst the rest of the band has more intensity and conviction in the stabs and riffs they play. ‘King Of The Jungle’ has muted rim shots from Femi Koleoso that add a perfect injection of suspense before the whole band groups together in a well-crafted explosive pattern. The horns liveliness increase before they return to chilled neo-soul vibes again like in ‘Why You Mad?’.
Whilst Ezra Collective have the capacity and talent to utilise dub, reggae, RnB, neo-soul, afrobeat and funk into their unique jazz sound, there’s a feeling that there could be more unity with the selection of songs, which would add more coherence to the album as a whole. In this attempt to prove how adaptable and pragmatic they are in playing different styles, to entice a wider audience, they sometimes lack a sense of purpose and drive in developing riffs in certain songs.
You Can’t Steal My Joy offers many groove stompers alongside some more harmonious and relaxed playing. It is hard to deny that Ezra are doing the best job of trying to reach out to a wider mainstream audience through their enviable amount of popularity - particularly in comparison to other leading groups of the young jazz scene - and this excites us. An album like this is a great introduction to a new audience and will encourage them to seek out more of Ezra’s music and from other artists in the jazz scene which they are doing gradually but successfully; for that, Ezra Collective must be praised.
Joe Armon-Jones – Piano, Keys; Femi Koleoso - Drums; James Mollison - Saxophone; Dylan Jones - Trumpet; TJ Koleoso – Bass; Jorja Smith – Vocals (Track 5); Loyle Carner – Vocals (Track 6); KOKOROKO (Track 13).