Ezra Collective win 2023 Mercury Prize

Sebastian writes: Congratulations to Ezra Collective (Femi Koleoso, TJ Koleoso, Ife Ogunjobi, James Mollison and Joe Armon-Jones) for bringing to an end one of the longest waits in British music…all of thirty-one years…

Album cover of “Where I Want to Be”

The Mercury Prize was founded in 1992, and jazz groups have been nominated in most years, and have tended to be considered as a “token” presence. But last night, at the Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith was the first time a jazz group has actually won. Ezra Collective were given the prize for their second full album “Where I Want to Be” (Partisan).

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Here is the jury citation: “Virtuosity, community, listening to each other to work out where to go next… who knew that such seemingly old-fashioned values would come to the fore on the winning album of the 2023 Mercury Prize with FREENOW? It wasn’t easy to choose an overall winner from such an eclectic and exciting list, but ultimately the judges were unanimous: Ezra Collective, the London five-piece made up of Femi Koleoso on drums, TJ Koleoso on bass, Joe-Armon Jones on keys, James Mollison on saxophone and Ife Ogunjobi on trumpet are a living argument for putting the hours in, achieving musical brilliance, and tapping into a joyous spirit that ensures their album is as fun as it is impressive.  The British jazz renaissance of the past decade has been one of the most significant developments in modern music. Now, ‘Where I’m Meant To Be’, with its touches of reggae, soul, Latin and Afrobeats, its call and response riffs and rhythmic intensity, is a landmark not only for jazz, but for contemporary music in general.”

If a jazz band winning the Mercury prize doesn’t make you believe in God, nothing will,”(*) Femi Koleoso said last night. “We met in a youth club. This moment we’re celebrating right here is testimony to good, special people putting time and effort into [helping] young people to play music … let’s continue to support that,” he also expressed his appreciation for the decisive support the band themselves had received from Tomorrow’s Warriors and Kinetika Bloco.

Quoting from Dan Bergsagel’s 2019 review of the band live at Poisson Rouge in NYC (link to our coverage below):

The tenor and trumpet led out on stage, together a call to arms, and the rest of the Ezra Collective bounded on soon after – the crowd ready to bound along, too. It was the start of the evening’s journey, closely curated by the collective on the way, from Kenny Dorham to Sun Ra, via Skepta and Kendrick Lamar.

A blistering “Space is the Place” is a euphoric marker, with a power sax intro and free-wheeling bass backing. We had dub Red Wine and a necessary afro beat encore, always with time in a set for slower moments with variation in mood – a lone trumpet leading in People in Trouble with a ponderous well-structured solo. But what makes Ezra Collective stand out is the way they play together: when they nail a post-drum-solo drop, or when they all dump their instruments and gather in to crowd and dance around Armon-Jones‘s keys.

There is plenty of old pal love on display and a brotherly bond, but the core of the band is in the understanding between the organ vamp and Femi Koleoso‘s shockingly crisp rhythms. The way Koleoso waves the horns out of his way so he can get a clear view of Armon-Jones feels like it reveals so much. With TJ Koleoso‘s bass involved too there’s a real power groove borne in this axis of stares.

It might be the camaraderie, the feeling of being part of a bigger social music movement, or just the big sound, but it feels like Ezra Collective are now at the front of a young London’s answer to Kamasi Washington’s West Coast Get Down. It’s still eclectic and epic, but this version is fun and honest and real. Less pageantry, and not so bloody serious.

(*) quoted from the Guardian’s news piece and report.

LINK: LJN coverage of Ezra Collective
Ezra Collective on Bandcamp

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2 replies »

  1. Starting back in 1992 the list of jazz nominations is impressive (I may have missed one or two!)
    Bheki Mseleku
    Courtney Pine
    John Surman
    Denys Baptiste
    Soweto Kinch
    Basquiat Strings
    Portico Quartet
    Led Bib
    Kit Downes
    Gwilym Simcock
    Roller Trio
    Go Go Penguin
    Polar Bear
    The Comet is Coming
    Sons of Kemet
    Seed Ensemble
    Moses Boyd
    Nubya Garcia
    Fergus McCreadie

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