Holly Greenwood reviews...
With Ezra Collective selling out the majority of their UK dates this year, we headed over to the Albert Hall early in order to bag a good vantage point. Where I’m Meant to Be was released towards the end of last year on Partisan Records and perfectly captures everything the band stand for: community and joy as a form of resistance. It was therefore no surprise that the night was full of a communal spirit, set up perfectly by the Albert Hall venue and the band’s own engagement with the crowd.
As the set opened and the lights went down, you could just about make out the shapes of tenor saxophonist, James Mollinson, and trumpeter, Ife Ogunjobi. The pair made their way along the edge of the mezzanine before blasting the brassy opening to their beloved tune Victory Dance under two spotlights. As the bass and drums kicked in the crowd’s dancing took action. The band’s charismatic frontman and drummer (a rare pairing), Femi Koleoso, frequently took moments to talk with the crowd and showed appreciation for the support. The band’s engagement with the crowd resulted in Mollinson and Ogunjobi parting the sea of fans and playing from the centre of the pit. This style of immersive performance makes Ezra Collective such a great group to see live and it’s been amazing to witness their progression to these heights. They are set to headline a number of festivals over the summer, including Cross the Tracks, We Out Here as well as Glastonbury.
The gig was a celebration of that progression and the success of their second album - which has features from the likes of Jorja Smith, Kojey Radical, Nao and Sampa the Great. This collaboration with prominent UK Jazz, Funk and Soul artists demonstrates the Collective’s own standing within that body of work. On stage, Koleso provided the backstory for the collective, discussing their origin within the youth band, Tomorrow’s Warriors at the Southbank Centre in London, which signals the importance of youth clubs and organisations for UK culture.
The venue itself allowed for the celebratory and communal spirit that was created by the music. Previously a church, Manchester’s Albert Hall is a singular and unique venue, with a floor to ceiling length organ and an ornate dome-shaped ceiling. In one of his many asides to the crowd, Koleoso reminded us of the power of the Church space, encouraging a spirit of love and enjoyment. At the start of the set, he called for everyone in the crowd to introduce each other and made clear that community was equally as important when watching and listening to music as it is when producing it.
I would therefore recommend that everyone take time out of their evening or weekend to watch an Ezra Collective set - whether that be at a gig or festival - because you will leave feeling incredibly joyful.
Words: Holly Greenwood
Image credit: Holly Greenwood