In 2019, one thing has kept jazz alive and well: community. That’s how Femi Koleoso, percussionist and leader of the UK-based band Ezra Collective, frames it. The 25-year-old’s five-piece band started as a passion project among friends, and for them, it continues to be one. But Koleoso and his bandmates — brother TJ Koleoso on bass, Joe Armon-Jones on keyboards, Dylan Jones on trumpet, and James Mollison on saxophone — have propelled themselves to the forefront of London’s New Jazz scene. From thrilling jam sessions for online radios to late nights at Steam Down, the band is ready for their next stop — the United States.
“We’re seeing the start of what can only be called a phenomenon,” says Koleoso over the phone, speaking ahead of the band’s show at Brighton Music Hall Saturday. His voice is tired, but eager. The band had just come off of a European tour promoting their debut album, “You Can’t Steal My Joy.” “Growing up, there was an emphasis on produced, computer-made music. Hip-hop turned more and more into trap, losing the jazz samples that once defined it. I think that gave the world a lust for instruments again, and we’re tapping into it.”
On top of that, the jazz coming from this movement is unlike anything that came before it. At any given moment, Ezra Collective’s music will feature elements of Afrobeat, a cover of Fela Kuti, or solos in the tune of free jazz, capped off by an eclectic cover of a standard like “Take the ‘A’ Train.”
While this will be the band’s first time playing in Boston, Koleoso has been here many times. He even has a go-to jazz club — Scullers. In May, he found himself onstage at Agganis Arena, playing drums for international pop star Jorja Smith, another member of his massive musical community. In the last five years, Koleoso has been jumping from drum kit to drum kit for a broad church of artists, all while making original music with his band.
“There’s a distinct change in mentality this time around,” Koleoso says about the US tour. “It’s one thing to tour and play for Jorja, she’s my friend, and I want to see her do well. When I’m with her, I play to make someone look good. When I’m with Ezra, I’m trying to make something look good. The band, the music, the culture.”
That’s why this upcoming trip carries much more weight. The New Jazz scene in the United Kingdom is more than a community, despite what Koleoso may say. It is a cooperative of some of the most talented young minds in the country coming together to challenge the dense and sometimes inaccessible world created by conservatory-bred jazz musicians and affluent, middle-aged and older audiences. It’s a renaissance of sorts.
That’s exactly how Koleoso saw jazz when he started playing drums for a church band in his teens.
“Jazz felt like a level of musicianship I would never reach,” Koleoso says. “It felt elite, and I felt very disconnected.”
Koleoso’s brother, TJ, was playing in the church band as well when they found a youth program with a focus on jazz music called Tomorrow’s Warriors. The program offers training to student musicians who cannot afford it. It didn’t take long for them to find like-minded artists in the program. By 2012, the band was formed. After a few years of practicing and playing, the band (and the New Jazz scene as a whole) came to a head in 2018.
The band caught the attention of big names in music, including producer Gilles Peterson, who featured Ezra Collective on his record label’s renowned compilation album “We Out Here.” The album, which is defined by its colorful cover depicting a fox roaming the streets, helped elevate the band, along with many of their peers, including the now-renowned saxophonist Nubya Garcia, drummer Moses Boyd, and Sheila Maurice-Grey’s eight-piece band KOKOROKO. That same year brought the band the opportunity to record its critically acclaimed EP “Juan Pablo: The Philosopher” at Abbey Road Studios. Koleoso recalls the experience with glee.
“I didn’t realize where we were until we got there,” Koleoso says. “I couldn’t believe it. I kept thinking of everyone who had recorded there, and my heart just started racing.”
The band, never backed by a major record label, has one priority — to make music. Its incredibly loyal fan base emerged organically. Footage of its live shows displays a rave-like spectacle, with band members jumping in the crowd to play at the same level as the audience, extending their sets as much as possible to just jam and dance. Koleoso has a feeling that the Ezra Collective experience will translate well in the United States.
“If this community grew out of nothing in the UK, it can happen in the US,” Koleoso says. “Now’s the time to make it happen, and get more collaboration going.”
At Brighton Music Hall, Boston, Dec. 7 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $16 (advance), $20 (door), events.crossroadspresents.com/venues/brighton-music-hall
Chris Triunfo can be reached at email@example.com.