The way Theo Croker lets his trumpet conjure up feelings of hope, despair, optimism, melancholy, and beauty on “Soul Call//Vibrate”, sets the agenda for his most satisfying album to date. The tune already sounds like a future classic. Dealing with his experience and knowledge of Black Culture, Theo started working on his album with just a Fender Rhodes keyboard and his trumpet, then putting the music together on his laptop before he asked his bandmates into a five-day recording session. The warm Rhodes and organ, played by Michael King, is one of the constant mainstays of the album. Together with bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Shekwoaga Ode, Theo has created a full-bodied opus here with various additional guests to spice things up.
I really like singer Ari Lennox on the wonderful soul meets jazz track “Every Part Of Me”, which not only comes to life because of the beautiful vocals, but also because of various warm synth pads and keys that are sprinkled throughout the track. Kind of reminds me of Erykah Badu. One of the highlights here. Sax legend Gary Bartz graces another soul/jazz number here: “Anthem” easily weaves into the mix with atmospherically dense pretense before singer Charlotte Dos Santos and a pretty daring breakbeat backdrop bring a little more restlessness on “Lucid Dream”. Theo’s trumpet sounds angry, crying out for help and balance.
Kassa Overall is helping out on “Where Will You Go”, another densely produced piece which oozes warmth and deftly produced originality with galactic keys and pads once again. The electric Miles comes to mind on the fierce “No More Maybe”, which probably compares best with “Water Babies” or thereabouts with its roving trumpet meets electronics sound. Singer Malaya is front and center on the high-spirited soul-dance mover “Happy Feet (for dancers)”, and Theo goes back in style and mood to the opening track with another Rhodes-heavy beauty: “Imperishable Star” somehow reminds me in sound and style of mid-70s Blue Note Donald Byrd. Great stuff!
I’m very much aware of the buzz about Wyclef Jean being part of the album on “State Of The Union 444”, but the tune doesn’t really stick around much. Most of the other tracks do! The amazingly stomping and tribal “Hero Stomp//A Future Past”, the album’s longest track, is yet another Milesian tune which also boasts with great sax and clarinet work courtesy of Anthony Ware. The way Theo weaves in the tribe samples and the amazing piano work by Michael King make this a gigantic art piece. But I’m sticking to the more atmospheric tracks like the album closer “Pathways”: Theo seems to speak through his horn, the Rhodes takes the tune to the skies, piano and drums and bass underscore the dreamy soundscape and it tapers off slowly, gently, exuberantly happy, making me want to go back to another listen. Makes me think of “Nucleo”, the final track on John Carroll Kirby’s brilliant album “Septet”.
Check out the fantastic album cover art work and please go for the vinyl version which will be released on October 29th. Theo is on an extensive tour in Europe this month and the next.
10/16 Saint-Étienne – Le Panassa
10/19 Stockholm – Fasching
10/20 Göteborg – Nefertiti
10/21 Oslo – Cosmopolite Scene
10/22 Ixelles – Flagey
10/23 Eeklo – N9 Factory
10/24 Mannheim – Alte Feuerwache
10/25 Prague – Jazz Dock
10/26 Belgrade – Jazz Festival
10/28 Vienna – Porgy & Bess
10/30 Sacile – Teatro Zancanaro
10/31 Milano – Jazzmi 2021
11/02 Paris – Duc des Lombards
11/03 Paris – Duc des Lombards
11/04 Paris – Duc des Lombards
11/05 London – Ronnie Scott’s
11/06 London – Ronnie Scott’s
11/07 Utrecht – Tivoli Vredenburg
11/08 Rome – Jazz Fest
11/10 Amsterdam – Bimhuis
11/11 Rotterdam – Bird
11/12 Marseille – Festival des 5 Continents
11/13 Groningen – Rockit Festival