REVIEW: Moses Boyd’s Exodus at the 2018 Cheltenham Jazz Festival

Moses Boyd in 2012
Photo by Ben Amure

Moses Boyd’s Exodus
(Jazz Arena, 5 May 2018, Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Review by Mike Collins)

“It’s a long time since I did a gig this early,” said Moses Boyd, just after midday on a sunny Saturday in Cheltenham. His was the first of a series of gigs curated by Gilles Peterson in the wide-ranging festival programme and, as the DJ observed in his introduction, the first time at this festival that Peterson had crossed over from bringing late night DJ sets, to presenting gigs on the main festival stages. Boyd was unfazed. “I’m just going to do what I do,” he said.

An hour later as the final number reached a climax, boiling drums sustaining a hectic, volcanic groove with first Mike Underwood’s sax and then Ife Ogunjobi’s trumpet unwinding solos over layers of cycling harmony, there were roars of appreciation from the near capacity crowd in the tented Arena stage. It was a blistering start to a baking weekend.

In interviews, Boyd talks of growing up listening to Wiley and Dizzee Rascal as well as discovering jazz and the drumming of Max Roach, Tony Williams and on. The buzz of the last few years around Boyd and the musicians tirelessly championed by Peterson, reflects the excitement in artists finding ways to blend, in an entirely natural way, their own personal histories and musical influences with the richness of of jazz.

Exodus’ set laid it all out for us. After an opener built around one of those bustling fusillades from the drums, washes of atmosphere from Sam Crowe on Fender and little ripples from Artie Zaitz’s guitar, there was a vicious bass hook from Sam’s left hand, a declamatory theme from the horns and they were off. There were softer grooves with a soulful edge. Solo Moses was riveting as an intro to another of those skipping, slipping grooves. Boyd started minimally and developed a story in rhythm as layer was added to layer and little motifs developed. There was more solo Moses as the prelude to a new untitled piece, this time using his analogue synth to whip up an electrifying storm. The band came in with a moodier groove and another striking, evolving phrase for a theme.

Mike Underwood was a fiery presence on tenor, unleashing flurries of notes as darting angular runs, delivered with an assertive tone. This was Ife Ogunjobi’s first gig with the band and it was an impressive debut. Another from the long line of talent nurtured by Jazz Warriors, he steered a line between introspection with reflective, sculpted lines and long notes and more assertive bursts of muscular playing.

When all the influence spotting and discussion is put away, this was exciting, dramatic music. It was a storming set.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

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