The London jazz scene has been incredibly vibrant in recent years with thrilling albums by the likes of Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia and Sons of Kemet. Ezra Collective can now take a prime place in that list with their second album, ‘Where I’m Meant To Be’. A glance at the titles gives a coherent sense of the album’s mood (‘Victory Dance’, ‘Togetherness’, ‘Ego Killah’, ‘Smile’, ‘Belonging’, ‘Live Strong’), a recognition of tough times but a determined positivity reflected in the music especially the joyful call and response between James Mollison and Ife Ogunjobi on saxophone and trumpet. Band leader, Femi Koleoso (who also drums with Gorillaz) lays down fluid drum patterns, underscored by younger brother, TJ, on bass guitar. The scene thrives on collaboration with keys player Joe Armon-Jones also performing with Garcia and Boyd.

‘Where I’m Meant To Be’ benefits from various guest singers and rappers including Sampa the Great on opening track, ‘Life Goes On’, which sets the pulse racing with triumphant horn stabs and percussive flourishes as Sampa takes on the haters (“I don’t take no threats/ Don’t you think that I forget.”) ‘No Confusion’ starts with a clip from a phone conversation between Femi and Tony Allen about the latter’s interpretation of jazz. The guest rap from Kojey Radical is a hymn to thinking for yourself and insists “the revolution will be televised.” 

Emeli Sande lends superb vocals to ‘Siesta’ which appropriately starts in a relaxed groove (“Jump into the moment and make sure you make a splash/ cos while you’re sitting stressing God is laughing at your plans”) before going full on party and Nao gifts timeless soul jazz vocal inflections to the gorgeous ‘Love in Outer Space’.

Ezra Collective are well versed in jazz history as acknowledged in the album’s cover referencing Thelonius Monk’s ‘Underground’ but expertly cross-pollinate with a variety of genres. The album’s first single, ‘Victory Dance’ is a highlight with its celebratory Afro-Cuban samba jazz Afrobeat mash up and showcases Armon-Jones’ glorious keys playing but the virtuosity is worn lightly. ‘Never The Same Again’ returns later to that deep well of Afro-Cuban glee and freeform horn blowing which would have seemed unimaginable from its subdued reflective beginnings. 

In an extended reggae section, the dancehall vibe of ‘Togetherness’ is followed by the dub leanings of ‘Ego Killah’. The spare groove of ‘Smile’, one of the purer jazz tracks on the album, throws further spotlight on Jones’ phenomenal playing while the jazz-funk stylings of ‘Live Strong’ develops a swing that would not be out of place on Stevie Wonder’s ‘Songs in the Key of Life’.

A couple of spoken word interludes are telling. ‘Words by Steve’ in which filmmaker and artist, Steve McQueen, extols “the unrecognisable but within the unrecognisable there is the familiar and somehow it’s about how one deals with it within the moment” an apt choice for describing Ezra Collective’s music, improvising within a set of ground rules and traditions. ‘Words by TJ’ recounts an audience member’s emotional response to a gig to show how music goes beyond being just notes strung together to something with power to change people in a serious way.

‘Where I’m Meant To Be’ is a lengthy album, clocking in at 70 minutes, but without any lulls, full of seamless switches and developments of moods and styles. While it screams out to be played live or in a club, it also brings an exhilarating party to any home. 

Ezra Collective: Where I’m Meant To Be – Out 4th November 2022 (Partisan Records)


I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.