Joe Armon-Jones is one of the most prodigious musicians in the new wave of jazz eminating from London right now. A member of Ezra Collective and a noted collaborator, his role on last year’s ‘Idiom’ EP resulted in one of 2017’s finest releases.
‘Starting Today’ is his debut album (proper), and it’s a key moment for Armon-Jones in his evolution both as a composer and as a band-leader. It’s a broad-ranging work, one that chafes at the limits of what could traditionally be termed jazz while retaining a clear spiritual element.
The band listing reads like a who’s who of cutting edge music in London right now. Moses Boyd contributes on drums, Nubya Garcia’s emphatic saxophone playing is a joy, while Asheber’s forceful vocal on the title cut – the album finale, in fact – is a righteous call for arms, a celebration of music as a life force.
‘London’s Face’ is a buoyant, exploratory work, with Oscar Jerome working against the torrents of rhythmic undulation. The 10 minute ‘Mollison Dub’ is a real centrepiece, a nexus of musical impulses that streets from New Orleans to Hackney soundsystem culture and back again.
‘Ragify’ ratchets the tempo up into Fela Kuti territory, an intense nine minute workout in which Joe Armon-Jones’ keyboard playing takes on the form of Herbie Hancock’s fusion work, but given a sense of London grit in the process.
A continually expansive yet remarkably united work, ‘Starting Today’ is a tour de force, the starting pistol for a composer whose multi-faceted approach allows him to be appreciated on any number of levels. It’s an album that will appeal to jazz heads and club kids alike, underlining the sheer ‘Wot Do U Call It?’ nature of music in the capital right now.
It’s confusing at times, but always joyous; a quiz that demands answers, a puzzle the deserves completion, a bit like the city that birthed it. In a year dominated by huge works from key figures in UK jazz ‘Starting Today’ more than holds its own.
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