REVIEW: EZRA COLLECTIVE @ THE SINCLAIR 4/6
By: Kathryn Harmon
At the end of their set, Femi Koleoso, the drummer and ideator of Ezra Collective, takes up the mic one last time and yells “EC TO THE WORLD!” to the screaming crowd. The five members take one final bow and retreat backstage as the lights go up. As I gather myself and check the T schedule, I look at the crowd and realize suddenly that everyone is smiling, ear to ear. People jostle each other on the way out, but no one argues; the merch line is long, but no one complains; everyone looks tired, but they’re still joking and laughing with each other. I realize I can’t even find myself mad about the 15 minutes I have to wait for the next Red line train. Through their hopeful words, upbeat jazzy feel, and world-conquering dreams, Ezra Collective’s steadfast commitment to joy has successfully infected us all in just an hour of music.
Ezra Collective is a five-man band hailing from London (a fact that isn’t hard to miss, as multiple band members affectionately refer to the crowd as “fam” or “mate”) that is reinvigorating the jazz scene city by city. The US is only one stop on their world tour- the group has already played shows across Europe, Asia, and Canada on the way. The band started out of a youth club in London about ten years ago, where the five members met and bonded over their love of playing jazz music. Their first show was playing a half hour of their music at a local pub- “on a Monday night, y’know, the graveyard shift,” Koleoso quips- played to the bar staff, their parents, and about five people. The word spread like wildfire- they were soon playing other London pubs, then venues outside of London, then shows in Paris, then playing South by Southwest in 2019. Most recently, they played a Tiny Desk concert with NPR last November. Their success shows no signs of stopping- Ezra Collective is on track to set the world aflame, with a smooth but energetic sound and a mastery of their instruments that makes it all look easy.
Ten years playing together has made the Collective into a true band of brothers- watching them perform is like taking a master class on how to be a band. Every member is watching the others carefully, never overstepping or underperforming. Every tempo shift is pulled off flawlessly when one member begins to slow or speed up, every other member immediately follows suit, like they’re all playing one instrument. As Joe Armon-Jones riffs on the keyboard, his eyes are locked on Femi Koleoso on the drums, watching like a hawk for rhythms to build upon. TJ Koleoso on bass bounces towards James Mollison on saxophone, who grins in anticipation and matches his melody immediately. And when trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi begins a rousing solo in one of the stand-out songs of the set (aptly named You Can’t Steal My Joy), the rest of the band steps back, watching him in awe as the audience holds their breaths. The band waits with the crowd, the barrier between performer and viewer broken as the venue drifts into a charged silence. Finally, at the last, long, loud note from his trumpet, the band jumps back into play in unison. The crowd jumps with them, cheering loudly as sound echoes through the venue again, bringing the place and everyone in it to life.
Ezra Collective is a true collective labor of love- not just from the band, but from the audience. Going to an Ezra Collective gig is an induction ceremony that asks you to commit to finding joy
in everything and everyone around you. At the beginning of the set, Femi Koleoso asks the audience to introduce themselves to a stranger next to them. The room fills with half-joking “hi, how are you”s, but everyone is happy to greet the people around them. (I meet a man named Munu who asks how I liked the show after the final song; I’m happy to tell him that it was great, and he agrees enthusiastically.) Near the end of the show, bassist TJ Koleoso, Femi’s brother, stops playing mid-song and makes an arm movement telling the audience to spread out, like Moses trying to part the Red Sea. The crowd makes way for him and the other two members not tied to the stage by a keyboard or drum set, and the three hop onto the floor and play within the crowd. There’s no sense that the performers are any different than the audience- everyone in the venue is equal, all gathered to share a night of joy and celebration through music. You leave an Ezra Collective show as a new member of the Collective- tasked with spreading the word not just of the band, but of the importance of joy even in the darkest of times.
Ezra Collective’s newest album, “Where I’m Meant To Be”, can be streamed anywhere where music is found. Check them out on Twitter and Instagram at @EzraCollective, and watch their NPR Tiny Desk concert on Youtube.