Album of the Day: Theon Cross, “Fyah”

When Westerners think of modern U.K. jazz, the names Shabaka Hutchings and Nubya Garcia might come to mind first. Yet over the past four years, tubist Theon Cross has become a quiet force in the scene, playing alongside the saxophonists while forging his own path. As a member of Sons of Kemet, the Hutchings-led troupe of Caribbean folk and West African dance music, Cross underlines their festive compositions with deep, resounding bluster. If Sons of Kemet honor the roots of traditional black music, Cross celebrates its evolution to more contemporary forms—namely hip-hop, ambient, and R&B. On Fyah, Cross blends genres with exquisite results, landing on a sound with which Sons of Kemet fans can identify. Yet this is Cross’s own vision, and with the help of Garcia and drummer Moses Boyd (who’s also a titan in the U.K. jazz scene), Fyah draws a direct line to the famed second line parades in New Orleans. Opening song “Activate” is the best example of this connection: Cross and Garcia match each other note for note, sailing Boyd’s percussive bounce through its different tempo shifts. The track quickens as it moves, concluding with an energetic flurry of drum fills, saxophone wails, and low-end bass. “Radiation” salutes Detroit hip-hop: Here, Boyd drags his percussion just a bit, giving it the same off-center feel as a J Dilla or Karriem Riggins beat. On this song, “The Offerings,” “CIYA,” and “Letting Go,” Cross settles into understated grooves, similar to what Makaya McCraven employed on 2018’s Universal Beings. Much like McCraven, Cross applies a communal approach to his music, sometimes taking a step back to allow other voices to flourish. In a jazz scene like the U.K.’s, where its top players are willing to share space and creative energy, Fyah is another great triumph for Cross and the region as a whole.

—Marcus J. Moore

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