Before the pandemic struck, Ezra Collective were on fire. A world tour awaited them following years of hard graft, the critically acclaimed release of their 2019 debut album You Can’t Steal My Joy, and an explosive Glastonbury performance that brought UK jazz to unseen heights. “Then a big pause button was pressed,” says Femi Koleoso, the drummer and bandleader. Ezra had been touring relentlessly for more than half-a-decade, stopping only occasionally to record. “The pandemic was how we entered this transition phase,” he continues.
Ezra Collective’s new era, a venture in discovered maturity and raised stakes, will be defined by the anticipated second album. Where I’m Meant To Be is a thumping celebration of life, an affirming elevation in the Ezra Collective’s winding hybrid sound and refined collective character. The songs marry cool confidence with bright energy. Full of call-and-response conversations between their ensemble parts, a natural product of years improvising together on-stage, the album – which also features Sampa The Great, Kojey Radical, Emile Sande and Nao – will light up sweaty dance floors and soundtrack summer dinners in equal measure.
The group – consisting of Femi (who also drums for Gorillaz) as drummer and bandleader, Joe Armon-Jones on keys, James Mollison on saxophone, Ife Ogunjobi on trumpet, and Femi’s younger brother TJ on bass guitar – originally came together in 2012 as teenagers at the youth band of Tomorrow’s Warriors, a music education initiative at the South Bank Centre in London. They have since shot forward to become architects of a new phase in their city’s musical journey, a hybrid time in which Black genres – jazz, grime, afrobeat and more – can dovetail and harmonize fluidly, at new, forever rising levels.