Theon Cross

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  • Remy Jude Ensemble
Stepping Tiger @ Storyhouse 6/10/19

Entering Chester’s Storyhouse to the unmistakable Nigerian electro-funk of William Onyeabor, it’s clear Stepping Tiger have something wilder in store than your average Sunday night at the theatre. Bordered by bookcases with pink ambient lighting riding the walls, the venue’s open-plan spread does have an air of sophistication about it. Just over the shoulder of a guy carefully buttering scones we spy Ben ‘Roman’ Haslett DJing, the man bringing THEON CROSS and so much more to our walled city.

Incredibly tight from the off, REMY JUDE ENSEMBLE open up and ease us in with a deep four-part harmony. Mellowing into a blend of alt.jazz and hip hop, there’s shades of Tom Misch and Loyle Carner in their sound. Occasionally they shift feel and a little funk slips in, vocalist Amber Kuti and keys player Max O’Hara being Galactic Funk Militia ex-recruits, after all.

The fluid interplay between Jude and Kuti on hook-heavy standout Band Bak 2Geva quickly wins attendees over. Coming Home then segues into Yes Music, where a smooth-tongued Remy urges us to “thrust those shoulder blades when you hear those stabs”. Dropping down to a Cinematic Orchestra-esque bridge, Kuti’s melismatic scat inflections weave their way around a tasteful lead guitar and Jude’s fired-up MCing.

Theon Cross Image 2

Having made his name as one of the breakout talents of the UK jazz scene, Theon Cross is known for bringing the almighty bottom-end with Sons Of Kemet and guesting with Steam Down. As soon as Cross and touring line-up Chelsea Carmichael (saxophone), Patrick Boyle (drums) and Nikos Ziarkas (guitar) take the stage, the audience shift forward, filing up the stairs and mezzanine.

Veering wildly between improvised solo bursts and dub bass lines, the versatility of the tuba in Cross’ hands is quite astounding. You’ll normally see a tuba played sat down in an orchestra; Cross performs spinning on a heel, teasing it from gurgled drawl to blaring sustain. Coasting the outer fringes of jazz, at times the songs appear formless, yet the quartet remain violently in sync.

After a euphoric The Comet Is Coming-styled excursion, they slip into a sleazy Latin/bossa swing, almost verging on spiritual jazz climbs before settling into an afrobeat groove. Then after goading Carmichael and Boyle into a lengthy improv spin-out, Cross takes the mic and talks humbly about the importance of self-belief when writing music, before powering through CIYA and two encores.

Granted there will have been sweatier stops on the tour, but for a damp Sunday evening in Chester tonight’s scenes are simply unprecedented. Cross is undoubtedly at forefront of a movement that’s no longer confined to London.

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