Theo Croker – Escape Velocity

escape velocity(Okeh Records)

Following hot on the heels of strong new music by Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s Stretch Music, Marcus Strickland’s Twi-Life and Logan Richardson, and of course the carrying-all-before-him Kamasi Washington, comes yet another reason to feel hugely optimistic about U.S. jazz in 2016.

Like his fellow trumpeter Christian Scott, Croker has the music in his blood; while Scott is the nephew of saxophonist Donald Harrison, Croker is the grandson of trumpeter Doc Cheatham. In fact the story goes that he took up the trumpet at the age of 11 after hearing his grandfather play. He studied in New York and was playing in Shanghai when he met singer Dee Dee Bridgewater who became something of a mentor.

He has played often in her band and she repays here with a feature spot on Love From The Sun, a song she first sung with Norman Connors back in 1973. The rest of the album is composed and arranged by Croker alone or in collaboration.

It all begins in grand fashion – that’s what I really like about this bunch of young leaders, they think big. The whole disc – a concept album of sorts – has a lush feel which integrates hip-hop beats, hard bop, production-heavy R’n’B, space jazz and retro spirit music. He sounds like he is right at the centre of where U.S. jazz is right now but maybe the years in China have given him a stronger sense of that centre than if he hadn’t been away.

His band DVRK FUNK is a cohesive and dedicated core unit: Antony Ware is on tenor and flute, Michael King on piano and keyboards, Eric Wheeler on bass and Kassa Overall on drums. Altoist Irwin Hall is in on alto and tenor saxophones and some really effective bass clarinet, and other guests include guitarists Ben Eunson and Femi Temowa. Croker uses wah-trumpet, Harmon mute and samples to good effect. There is also some glorious use of Hammond C2 from King. Try the track We Can’t Breathe for a fine way in.

There is constant movement in the tracks, each containing two or three strong themes, and I am finding I warm more to this generous album with each new listen. It could become a real favourite through the summer.

Here is a taste:



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  1. 2016 Festive Fifty – 40-31 – thejazzbreakfast

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