Ezra Collective review at the Royal Albert Hall - Pitchfork Music Festival: 'Bringing the joy'

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Mercury Prize-winning Ezra Collective played the Royal Albert Hall for the opening night of Pitchfork Music Festival on Tuesday (November 7).

“The way things go - we started off this band and it’s the five of us trying to play this music, make cool music…” goes the intro for an outfit that has gone from London pubs to an audience of 5,000 at the Royal Albert Hall in 10 years. 

Ezra Collective opened Pitchfork Musical Festival on Tuesday to a rapturous reception from an audience ready to back the band as they go to the next level, having this year already found wider acclaim by scooping the Mercury Prize.

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Broadly labelled as 'jazz' the quintet actually meld genres from afrobeat to hip-hop to reggae, and the show most resembles a classic funk review - high-energy, musicians taking turns in the limelight, and a non-stop dancefloor (or shuffle in front of the seats of the Albert Halls upper circles and boxes).

They open with the rumble of TJ Koleoso's bass as his bandmates appear, the horns high up in the crowd.

“We are the Ezra Collective from London. We are on a mission to bring joy,” drummer and band leader Femi Koleoso tells us, at a time when "a lot of you, like us, are sad".

And joy they bring. Everything about the music is designed to get the body moving and lift the mind. Femi, also known for his drumming with Gorillaz, and TJ, his brother, drive everything along but are playful with it, throwing each other surprises.

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Togetherness ("Out in the street they call it Ezra") is all punchy dub, while the gloriously funky, almost-Latin groove of You Can't Steal My Joy sends the crowd into meltdown. The trumpet from Ife Ogunjobi, coming out of the drum solo in the latter, is a peach.

It's the crowd that this is all about. Before the music really gets going, we are told to introduce ourselves to a stranger. "I know it's a bit strange," admits Femi, but this is about community.

At one point all five members are clambering over the barrier and into the crowd - like this is any London venue and not one of the world's most famous concert halls. They return to the stage to the tune of the celebratory Victory Dance.

The band are clearly delighted to be there. James Mollison can't stop smiling. It is his tenor saxophone, along with Ogunjobi's trumpet, which gives the music its rich texture.

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Keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones, is intense but unassuming throughout, finding the spaces in the rhythm, and then taking centre stage for a touching, virtuoso performance towards the end as his bandmates sit and take in the view before them - a packed Royal Albert Hall decorated with the twinkle of mobile phone torches.

The show has its special guests. Loyle Carner and Kojey Radical are among the vocalists invited to share the collective joy. But Ezra themselves are the stars here.

The finale features an orchestra of young musicians, stars of the future, and the admirable commitment to community continues.

Ezra Collective take in the view at the Royal Albert Hall. (Photo by André Langlois)Ezra Collective take in the view at the Royal Albert Hall. (Photo by André Langlois)
Ezra Collective take in the view at the Royal Albert Hall. (Photo by André Langlois) | André Langlois

Pitchfork Music Festival 2023 - how to get tickets

Headliners still to come at Pitchfork Music Festival include Sleater-Kinney, Kara Jackson and Weyes Blood.

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Tickets are still available for most events. Go to the Pitchfork Music Festival website, which will direct festival-goers to the individual ticket sites.

The festival site gives full details of the line-ups of support acts.

Pitchfork is an online music magazine.

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