A Night of Jazz Alchemy: Ezra Collective’s Sold-Out Show at SWG3

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Words: Eliza Hart (She/Her)

Ezra Collective’s energy is so infectious that being commanded to engage in icebreakers, and introduce yourself to the stranger next to you, isn’t as annoying as it now sounds in writing. From the minute that the London-based quintet leaped onto the stage at SWG3, all Glaswegian cynicism within the crowd lifted. The title of the band’s track ‘Welcome To My World’ does well to encapsulate the opening of the gig: a pint of Scottish Tennent’s in hand, I witness the crowd of SWG3 transform as the space is filled with a sonic cocktail of sunshine and riotous, rhythmic possibility. 

Get to know or get to know: Ezra Collective is the group spearheading the current UK jazz scene. Since the release of their debut album You Can’t Steal My Joy in 2019, the band has become well known at London Jazz Club Ronnie Scott’s and the UK festival circuit for their seamless blend of Afrobeat, reggae, hip-hop, and soul. The group is composed of drummer and bandleader Femi Koleoso, bassist TJ Koleoso, keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones, trumpeter Ife Ogunjobi, and tenor saxophonist James Mollison; their camaraderie compels the audience to move. Throughout the night, each musician takes a turn in the spotlight to flex their musical craft through improvisatory solos while keeping the group’s balance firmly intact. The blend of musical personalities is kaleidoscopic; the set’s sound ebbs and flows between the band’s evident respect for the jazz tradition with newfound explosive expressionism. Armon-Jones’ masterful playing is a personal highlight. His nimble-fingered keyboard riffs add a new depth to Ezra Collective’s musical vocabulary, a unique texture I hadn’t picked up on when previously listening to the band’s albums.

The set is punctuated with anecdotes from the drummer and bandleader Femi Koleoso, and his affection for Glasgow is both genuine and apparent from the get-go. The night at SWG3 marks an anniversary for Ezra Collective; the group first came to Scotland, or ‘went international’, as Koeleoso jokingly recalls, eight years ago to play an after-party for the Glasgow Film Festival. 

A highlight of the set was Ezra Collective’s tribute to Fela Kuti through renditions of Kuti’s well-known tracks “Colonial Mentality” and “Lady”. Fela Kuti, the legendary Nigerian musician and political activist, has significantly influenced Ezra Collective’s hybrid sound. The band has spoken openly about their admiration for Kuti’s work, particularly his pioneering Afrobeat sound, which combines elements of jazz, funk, and West African rhythms. In interviews, drummer Koleoso cited his father’s love for Fela Kuti’s music as the primary inspiration for the beginning of his drumming career and passion for Afrobeat rhythms.

Halfway through the 90-minute set, Koleoso drew the crowd’s attention to the troubling realities facing the (self-proclaimed) “middle-ranking artists” like Ezra Collective: namely the high costs of touring in a post-pandemic landscape. Venue rental, equipment rental, transportation, and marketing costs can quickly add up, making it challenging for middle-ranking musicians to break even or profit from their shows. For example, artists such as Little Simz and Stormzy have decided not to tour the US and Australia for the foreseeable future. Middle-ranking musicians do not have the same level of experience or expertise when negotiating with venues or promoting their shows, which can put them at a disadvantage when securing favourable terms or reaching a wider audience. Koleoso’s leaving message to the crowd isn’t new within post-pandemic discourse, but serves as an important reminder, as always: we must keep supporting and showing up for the art we love. 

The end of the gig involved the band jumping the barrier and joining the bopping crowd whilst impressively still playing their instruments. With vibrancy, enthusiasm, positivity, and confidence, Ezra Collective’s set is not one to miss the next time around. 


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