The groove-laden, genre-bending sound of British jazz-funk outfit Ezra Collective emerged as one of the more ubiquitous groups on the dynamic London jazz scene. While their wildly energetic live gigs brought out punters in droves, it was the wide release of their debut album, 2019′s You Can't Steal My Joy, that helped break the jazz mold. They toured England and Europe for the next couple of years. In March 2022, the group issued the bumping “May the Funk Be with You” followed by “Victory Dance” in June. In November, the quintet released its sophomore full-length, Where I'm Meant to Be.
Formed in London in 2016 by Femi Koleoso (drums), his brother, TJ Koleoso (bass), Joe Armon-Jones (keys), Dylan Jones (trumpet), and James Mollison (saxophone), the group first made a name for themselves on the underground London jazz scene. Using elements of Afrobeat, hip-hop, grime, R&B, and jazz, the five-piece delivered their debut EP, Chapter 7, in 2016. A follow-up, Juan Pablo: The Philosopher, appeared a year later and was picked up by Gilles Peterson and awarded “Best Album” at his own Worldwide Awards.
With the London jazz scene going through a renaissance, the Ezra Collective, along with the likes of Kamaal Williams, Sons of Kemet, and the Comet Is Coming, quickly became a hot ticket in the capital, playing sold-out shows across the city and also the country. 2018 saw them pick up gongs for “Best UK Jazz Act” and “Live Experience of the Year” at the Jazz FM awards, and also found them recording their full-length debut. Released in 2019, You Can't Steal My Joy saw the group breathing new life into the jazz scene, with an eclectic mix that drew on all their influences and saw them collaborating with Loyle Carner, Jorja Smith, and Kokoroko. Just before the end of the year, Armon-Jones issued the solo album Turn to Clear View on Brownswood.
The reaction to You Can't Steal My Joy from England’s nu-jazz scene was immediate, and it caught on with funk, R&B, and even some EDM DJs and got substantial radio play. Ezra Collective toured Great Britain and some European venues. While the musicians all did session work. Femi worked with Smith, Nubya Garcia, and Sarah Tandy, while Armon-Jones played with Tony Allen and Hugh Masekela, and Seed Ensemble, while Mollison played in the keyboardist’s solo group and Cykada. Jones also played in Armon-Jones’ quintet, and with Ashley Henry.
At the end of 2020, the Collective’s “Quest for Coin II” EP, in collaboration with JME and Swindle (it earned the designation “hottest record of the year” from BBC Radio 1 DJ, Annie Mac), was released. In 2021, they resumed playing live gigs and did some very limited touring. Just before the year’s close, they delivered “More Than a Hustler” in collaboration with rapper Novelist. Ezra Collective re-established their prime role on the club scene in 2022, though the venues were often a lot larger. They also played summer jazz festival stages in Europe. In November, Ezra Collective released their sophomore full-length, Where I'm Meant to Be, on the Partisan label. The 14-song set crisscrossed Afrobeat, jazz, funk, and hip-hop; it featured guest spots from Kojey Radical, Emeli Sande, Nao, and Sampa the Great on first single “Life Goes On.” The video for the latter was shot alternately in London, England, and Lusaka, Zambia, by director Nathan Miller. Met with almost unanimous critical acclaim, steady airplay, and excellent sales, Where I'm Meant to Be was awarded the annual Mercury Prize in September 2023, naming it the best album released in the United Kingdom in 2022. It marked the very first time a jazz recording won the prize. ~ Rich Wilson