Theon Cross review – more oomph than oompah from jazz-tuba champion

The tuba is an instrument of some magnificence. Warm bellied and low-rumbling, it’s been the bedrock of orchestras for quite some time, but is perhaps not what you might think of as a centre-stage star. As part of lauded London group Sons of Kemet (and a collaborator with Moses Boyd and Nubya Garcia), Theon Cross is making it his mission to rehabilitate its image. At the overlap between R&B, hip-hop and jazz, his second album Intra-I adopts a cinematic approach to brass beat-making, vibrating with contemporary cool.

On headphones, Intra-I invites main character syndrome: it’s like an imaginary soundtrack for an enthralling inner city crime drama. In a venue as intimate as this, it’s a different kind of arresting; the kind of intense communal experience that makes you wonder how it can happen so casually on an otherwise regular Tuesday night. In a world of samplers and loop pedals, it’s remarkable how little he relies on tape; whether establishing a beat, texture, or buzzing-bee melody, Cross’s pause for breath is so imperceptible that you suspect he must have gills to generate his astonishingly full sound.

Remarkable … Theon Cross.
Remarkable … Theon Cross. Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

Chat between songs is minimal (“we’re going to keep it more musical than verbal”), and from the crash-bang jungle-jazz of Activate to the disco marching band of 40tude, every moment laces itself neatly into the next, attitude lingering like the trail of a sparkler on a winter’s night. Far from a showboat, he builds space for each player to shine; drummer Patrick Boyle whacking his cymbal with meticulous chaos, guitarist Nikos Ziarkas laying down math-rock melodies with eyes tight shut, and Chelsea Carmichael demonstrating exactly why she is one of the country’s most exciting young saxophonists, matching Cross’s energy with ease and joy. In a multigenerational room of attendees, many are left agog, wondering if it’s too late into the New Year to take up a new hobby. If you have pondered the tuba, now might well be the time – this instrument just got seriously hip.


Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.