In recent years jazz has undergone a massive overhaul. A new generation of musicians have burst through, delivering innovative, forward-thinking music on a regular basis. One of the first signs of this ground swell came when Moses Boyd – along with fellow drummer Binker Golding - won a MOBO for best jazz act in 2015. Their debut album, ‘Dem Ones’, was exactly what the scene needed, showcasing their prodigious talent but almost more importantly their ability to incorporate the sounds they heard in school, the street and the club into an instant jazz classic.
Around this time, 2015, Boyd also started to release his own music - ‘Rye Lane Shuffle’ and ‘Displaced Diaspora’ deemed an essential releases, ramping up his sound, going heavier, and with the kind of ad-hoc time signatures that make you smile when you heard them. His latest project ‘Dark Matter’ is another step on, feeling more like a truer assessment of what Boyd is about: he’s broadened his sound with electronic motifs and expresses his love of dank basslines and fidgety synths, all underpinned by a jazz sensibility of the highest pedigree.
The album opens with ‘Stranger than Fiction’. After an intro of gossamer synths with sharp horns, a juke backing track keeps kicks. ‘Stranger than Fiction’ is probably the closest we’ll get to hearing inside Boyd’s head. It’s all there: intricate drumming, guttural basslines and grime swagger, with raspy horns for good measure.
The most immediate track here is ‘Shade of You’, where Boyd delivers his most straightforward piece of work to date. Guest vocalist Poppy Ajudha gives the track a much-needed pop feeling, while it shows that Boyd isn’t just capable of crafting forward-thinking jazz with electronic motifs - he can unleash a full-blown pop monster. It’s this versatility that is at once staggeringly impressive while also hiding in plain sight – and it’s what Boyd demonstrates with devastating effect throughout ‘Dark Matter’. He gives us what we want even though we don’t know we want it.
However, this pop respite - after the opening salvo of broody electronica and jazzy motifs - doesn’t last long. ‘Dancing in the Dark’, featuring Obongjayar, is a spoken word piece backed by Boyd’s stark instrumentation. As the sounds swell, Obongjayar really hits his flow and when the break kicks in things don’t often sound much better. On ‘2 Far Gone’ Boyd flexes his underground muscles, stoking up a real melting pot of his musical loves. Post-dubstep motifs interplay with graceful piano runs from Joe Armon-Jones. The juxtaposition of wonky beats and delicate piano feels as exciting as Miles Davis’ ‘On The Corner’ still does.
On listening to ‘Dark Matter’, it’s astonishing how many clever ideas Boyd manages to spin into earworms - the album is literally dripping with them. The next astonishing thing is how tight it feels: at just under and hour the album isn’t notably long nor short, but there are no parts that drag or feel out of place. This isn’t a hip-hop album, a jazz album, an electronica album...but something that will speak to fans of those genres who’ll take this as their album.
And this is what Boyd does - he makes us feel like he’s our artist, someone speaking directly to us and our troubles. This is what makes ‘Dark Matter’ so infectious.
8/10 Words: Nick Roseblade
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