The ongoing astral connections between the fragmentary lineages of neo-soul and the experimental fringes of jazz has resulted in some of the 21st century’s most breathtaking projects. Theo Croker should know – he’s played on some of them, and composed several more. An anomaly within the major label system, he’s managed to earned mainstream success and Grammy recognition while still playing music that is recognisably Out – both pan-genre and genre-less, it’s very much within the spirit of American improvisatory arts, while pursuing personal ends.
‘BLK2LIFE // A FUTURE PAST’ could be his finest moment yet. It’s certainly the most overtly soulful, plugging Theo Croker’s work into R&B circuitry laid out by guests such as the divine Ari Lennox, the magnificent Charlotte Dos Santos, and a magical turn from Malaya. Envisaged as a complete work of art, there’s a rare unity on display with this album – from the introductory passages on ‘4KNOWLEDGE’ to the closing ‘Pathways’ its never less than riveting.
The highs are almost too many to mention. The stunning ‘Soul Call // Vibrate’ is technically gifted, but imbued with deep emotional resonance; the glinting synths on ‘Imperishable Star’ underpin some wonderfully breathy passages from Theo Croker himself, his instantly recognisable trumpet notes becoming one of the album’s foremost creative weapons. - Yet often it’s the most subtle elements while linger longest in the imagination. The fingersnaps on ‘Every Part Of Me’ offset a truly exquisite vocal from Ari Lennox, while the deep, cavernous arrangement on ‘No More Maybe’ is soul presented in an afro-futurist setting.
‘Hero Stomp / A Future Past’ seems to thrive on the distance between tradition and possibility, resulting in one of the project’s more thrillingly abstract moments; ‘Lucid Dream’ however is a rolling, punchy, jazz-leaning piece of neo-soul that puts Clash in mind of the approaches used by inter-planetary cousins Children Of Zeus.
A riveting, fascinating experience, ‘BLK2LIFE // A FUTURE PAST’ is a gorgeous listen, one peppered with unexpected sonic detail. Theo Croker’s aural paintings have rarely been so developed, and so defined; jazz meets soul, future meets past, it’s a record that seems to conjure possibilities at every turn. A vital experience.
Words: Robin Murray
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