There’s nothing like winning a major award to lift a band’s profile, and that is what happened to London based nu jazz quintet Ezra Collective when they won the 2023 Mercury Prize for the album Where I’m Meant To Be.
The Mercury Awards was initiated in 1998 as an alternative to the Brit Awards and the shortlist is chosen by a peer group of musicians, producers and major figures in the British music industry.
The Mercury has a reputation for choosing the outsider rather than the favourite and Ezra Collective are the first jazz musicians to win the award in its 31-year history.
Fusing afro-beats, reggae, hip hop and soul with jazz, Ezra Collective are also known for their extensive collaborations, having worked and recorded with people as diverse as Sampa the Great, Kojey Radical and Jorja Smith, while citing Kendrick Lamar and Sun Ra as inspirations.
South African jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela is sampled at the start of “No Confusion” on Where I’m Meant To Be.
In 2018, they were cited as the Best UK Jazz Act, and received an award for Live Experience of the Year.
Taking their name from the prophet Ezra, who looked backwards to learn how to go forward, the five musicians met in 2016 at the jazz workshop Tomorrow’s Warriors, and quickly recorded the EP, Chapter 7, which marked them as a new group exploring boundaries in the often narrow world of jazz.
At Ezra Collective’s core is Nigerian born, North London drummer, Femi Koleoso, who has worked with Tony Allen and Hugh Masekela, and also doubles on the skins with Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz project.
Bassist TJ Koleoso, trumpeter Ogunjobi, tenor saxophonist James Mollison and old Etonian Joe Amon-Jones on keyboards make up the rest of the band.
London Review said of their live performance this year at the Royal Albert Hall: “The show most resembles a classic funk review, high energy, musicians taking turns in the limelight, and a non-stop dance floor”.
As a nod to their genre busting prowess, Ezra Collective also appeared at this year’s Glastonbury Festival, alongside CHVCHES and Fatboy Slim.
Sydney will get their own chance to check out Ezra Collective when they play the City Recital Hall this month.
City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney