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Live / stage review

Joe Armon-Jones

14 February 2020,

Recently nominated as UK jazz act of the year by Jazz FM, Joe Armon-Jones impressively merges an array of influences to form a sound that sways its way through the various cultures and genres impacting today’s scene. Joe and his army of young representatives epitomise the laidback nature of the exploding UK jazz revival; arriving at a sold-out Soup Kitchen show with no planned setlist, just a free-flowing, dynamic energy and the talent to create the liveliest Friday night party in Manchester.

The band’s ability to seamlessly lock into every tune that their band leader decides to spring on them is truly captivating. Gliding in and out of dub, funk and afro-beat grooves to hypnotise a crowd with a flavourful set of improvisations and embellishments personal to the 200 lucky attendees.

The London outfit’s prowess is exaggerated by their intricate fills and flawless placement. Beautifully composed sax arrangements from fellow Ezra Collective bandmate James Mollison and Deji Ijishakin weave in and out of the synth swells and melodic solos delivered from Joe’s Nord keyboard, while the drums and bass bounce off each other to deliver an infectious rhythmic intensity throughout.

Armon-Jones plays through tracks from his sophomore album, alongside covers of the great Fela Kuti – ‘Try Walk With Me’ sees album contributor and veteran of the scene Asheber join the four-piece to add an entirely new depth to the performance. The musician and educator’s reggae, spoken word styled vocals echo around the tenebrous depths of Soup Kitchen’s basement.

However, it’s the band’s unpredictability that provides the greatest scenes of the night. An extended version of ‘(To) Know Where You’re Coming From’ sees band mates collide in a flurry of solos, Armon-Jones unassumingly composing from his seat on the side-lines before allowing his hands to dance through jazz lines – “fucking beast,” Deji says as he does so.

The sheer joy and spontaneity of the collective delivered an unforgettable set, collaborating to construct an incredibly rich sound in what must be one of the best gigs of the year so far.

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