I’d not yet entered the Fox Cabaret, but I knew what I was about to be in for: some good jazz music. You could already hear a horn starting to blare on the other side of the venue’s heavy, mirrored doors. The band had just kick-started their first number without so much as a word to the crowd, from what I could hear. Stepping inside, I was suddenly thrust into the full force of Ezra Collective’s sound. It was triumphant.
After fifteen minutes of bouncing solos from one instrumentalist to the next, always bringing it back with the same choppy, latin-flavoured, trumpet-blasting melody in between, I began to wonder if we’d be introduced to the players at all. At last the drummer finally slowed his relentless rhythms and rolled the tune to a close. He then took the mic to introduce himself as Femi Koleoso, as well as his bandmates. On tenor saxophone, James Mollison had been grooving away, while Ife Ogunjobi lit up the stage across from him on trumpet. Bassist TJ Koleoso, Femi’s brother, held down the first number with jazzy bass lines while the pianist, Joe Armon-Jones, killed it on the keys.
“We want our music to be about joyfulness, happiness, to make you dance like no one is watching, but not from a place of ignorance…” Femi continued. “We all know what’s happening in the world right now, we all know there’s a lot to be angry about, trust me… But sometimes the way of dealing with that anger and that heartbreak is to celebrate the good moments we get to have and cling onto them tightly.”
Over the course of the night, Ezra Collective played hits like the popping latin “São Paulo,” which Femi explained as “inspired by the Brazilian people’s resilience through pain and destruction,” the Jorja Smith-powered “Reason in Disguise,” and their latest album’s titular bop, “You Can’t Steal My Joy.” They kept the set captivating and energetic, with their self-described afrobeat jazz changing tempos and time-signatures throughout — even mid-song. I was continually impressed by the professionalism of these incredible performers, who brought effortless energy without lights, pyrotechnics or even vocals to complicate an already enthralling show.
If I were to describe it in one word, it would be effortless. Their talent seemed to come so naturally that Femi could lay down twenty-straight minutes of advanced, technical drumming before standing up to take the mic and talk to the crowd, without needing to catch his breath. They were effortless in the way that James and Ife try to make each other laugh from across the stage — mid-solo — effortless in the way that makes you feel like a fly on the wall in a band practice. But the band that doesn’t need to rehearse anymore because they’ve got their setlist down pat, and now they’re just having fun.