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Joe Armon-Jones - Starting Today Music Album Reviews

Joe Armon-Jones - Starting Today Music Album Reviews
This solo debut from a fixture of London’s vital and eclectic jazz community delves into dub, soul, and fusion on a journey from the scene’s diverse roots to its exhilarating present.
In February, the London-based DJ and tastemaker Gilles Peterson put together a compilation of the city’s vital new wave of jazz talent. Titled We Out Here, its nine tracks are a fiery mix of fervent improvisation and slick grooves united by a tendency to branch out from jazz into hip-hop, dub, and grime. The artists on the album collaborate freely with each other, making We Out Here both a pocket guide to the scene and a launchpad for its members’ solo endeavors. That discography features recent releases like Sons of Kemet’s Your Queen Is a Reptile and Nubya Garcia’s When We Are. Now, it has expanded to include Starting Today, a debut album by Joe Armon-Jones that distinguishes the pianist and composer as a soulful, modern producer.

The six-song album opens with a stirring title track whose featured vocalist, Afrikan Revolution bandleader Asheber, proclaims, “Starting today, I’m gonna wipe the blood off these streets/ Starting today, spread love in the community.” Asheber’s reverential tenor casts him as something like the lost son of celestial jazz singer Andy Bey—and his improvised lyrics should resonate deeply in a Britain clouded by the murky haze of Brexit. The song eventually builds into a nine-minute modern-jazz-dance call to arms, complete with poetic guest sax riffs from Garcia and a deconstructed ending that fades to bass tones and atmospheric hiss.

After such a rousing start, the album’s next moves might seem disjointed at first listen. “Almost Went Too Far” is a blissed-out, sun-kissed slice of jazz fusion that nods to Bobbi Humphrey’s ’70s Blue Note output, with Armon-Jones’ Wurlitzer taking the place of her weightless flute. “Mollison Dub” marks another abrupt genre switch, entering a dub realm haunted by a ghost-town echo effect on Moses Boyd’s drumming and elongated bass tones from David Mrakpor. The songs are great showcases for Armon-Jones’ mastery of a range of styles—but, for a moment, they threaten to reduce the project to an academic exercise, demonstrating aptitudes without consideration for the album’s overall arc.

But Armon-Jones’ vision for the record soon comes into focus. “London’s Face” and “Ragify” take the vibes and styles he’s just laid down—the soul of “Almost Went Too Far,” the low-end theory of “Mollison Dub”—and fuse them together into a captivating whole. “London’s Face,” which features South London musician and composer Oscar Jerome on vocals and guitar, brings slinky, Arabic rhythms to a strut through a city defined by cross-cultural exchanges. Anchored by dubby basslines and African-style percussion, Jerome takes aim at “back door prophets—that’s where the hate be.” The album climaxes with the graceful “Ragify,” a track that tosses Armon-Jones’ greatest production tricks into a giant melting pot as his Wurlitzer cascades in psychedelic sheets over stuttering drum patterns.

Collaboration and cross-pollination are at the heart of the We Out Here ethos. On Starting Today, Armon-Jones takes a modern-jazz journey from the discrete influences on that eclectic London sound to its thrillingly diverse present—and stakes his claim as one of the scene’s most promising voices.

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