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Baker's Dozen

Top Brass: Theon Cross' Baker's Dozen
Stewart Smith , October 4th, 2023 08:19

Ahead of a special performance at Kings Place’s Luminate festival later this month, London jazz outlier Theon Cross takes Stewart Smith through his 13 favourite records, from Stevie Wonder to Kano via Miles Davis and Lauryn Hill

Photo by Ian Hippolyte

From New Orleans brass bands to the present-day innovations of Jose Davila, Oren Marshall and Jon Sass, the tuba is one of jazz’s secret weapons. Leading the new generation is Theon Cross, a young virtuoso who harnesses the tuba’s power as both a lead instrument and rumbling bass generator. Reflecting his own heritage, the London-based composer draws on jazz, dub, hip-soca, grime and other sounds connected to the African-Caribbean diaspora.

He first came to prominence as a member of Sons Of Kemet, who disbanded last year. All the while, he developed his own style, touring with grime artists like Kano, and composing music for his trio with saxophonist Nubya Garcia and drummer Moses Boyd. The latter two were key players on Cross’s debut album Fyah, released to widespread acclaim in 2019. An organic fusion of African-Caribbean diasporic styles, the album is a key document of the new London jazz scene.

“In my parents’ house, there was reggae and soca, music from the Caribbean,” Cross explains, "but also, hip hop was a massive thing, grime was a big thing.” A graduate of Tomorrow’s Warriors, the community music organisation that has been vital to London’s jazz renaissance, Cross went on to jam sessions at Ronnie Scott's jazz club and the Steam Down nights.

He followed the largely acoustic Fyah with 2021’s Intra – I, a solo album recorded with drummer-producer Emre Ramazanoglu and a stellar lineup of guest vocalists. The album sees Cross processing and layering his tuba to create a range of timbres and textures. At times, the tuba can sound like a dub bassline or a grime synth, at others, it’s a tuba choir.

Intra – I also has a strong message, with the guest vocalists raising consciousness about African-Caribbean history and culture. “Conceptually, I feel like I was in a period where I was learning more about myself and what I wanted to say. I wanted people that could speak to the themes I was presenting, which for the most part was introspection, also knowing about your lineage and your history.” The album is dedicated to Cross’s late father, Errol, a musician active in the 1980s British reggae scene. Cross paid homage to that era last year, with a cover of Aswad’s ‘Back To Africa’, the B-side to his single ‘Wings’, a banger recorded with his live band.

Theon Cross plays the Luminate Festival at Kings Place, London on 15 October in a duo alongside guitarist Nikos Ziarkis, present a spatialised live show in the round, utlilising the venue’s d&b Soundscape system. For more information and tickets, click here.

To begin reading Theon Cross’ Baker’s Dozen, click the image of him below.