Theon Cross ‘Fyah’ LP/CD (Gearbox) 4/5

Theon Cross is essential to our lives. He brings ‘prodigious’, ‘exuberant’ Tuba. He’s played with Kemet, Moses Boyd, Kano, Makaya McCraven, Jon Batiste, Pharoahe Monch, Courtney Pine, and on Gilles Peterson’s ‘We Out Here’ comp. Without him you wouldn’t have “My Queen is Angela Davis” be the beast it is. So, he already has piles of goodwill in his ‘let-me-off-when-I-mess-up, yeah?’ muso bank account. When I heard he had a new album out I physically smiled.

The new album is unsurprisingly called “Fyah”. The fyah is provided throughout by Him and, the always effortless, Moses Boyd (drums); with Nubya Garcia (sax) making up the killer trio on 6 tracks while Wayne Francis (tenor sax), Nathaniel Cross (trombone), Artie Zaitz (guitar) and Tim Doyle (percussion) form a sextet on “Candace of Meroe” and “CIYA”.

Cross drops a flabby dnb bassline on opener “Activate”, Boyd backs him up with a tight shuffle groove and Garcia dances her edgy, angular dance. There’s a quick Brit-ska break down, the tuba scratches, they indulge in some collective aggro, the tuba goes off on one, a bit of threatening harmony then Boyd finally explodes to the end. Bang. A 2nd liner Brit carnival all in here!

“The Offerings” is a lowdown deep dubby throb, rumbling under the sound of a gathered crowd. Its relentless prowl intimidates, never allowing itself to flourish or lighten its mood. Disciplined and dark.

“Radiation” emits a slick, strutting tuba groove which Boyd immediately submits to. It’s the dirty funk, hip-hop jazz trio reporting for duty on this one. Garcia is all hands in the air like she just don’t care; then a defensive, coy question and answer stand-off between Cross and Garcia before they commune.

“Letting Go” starts with the trio at their pared back best. Hypnotic, minimal loops; acoustic electronica that breaks momentarily into tender, uplifting storytelling from both Garcia and Cross before the trio take-off and soar.

“Candace of Meroe” is named after a Queen of the Kingdom of Kush and pushes exalted Afro grooves; Cross x 2, Boyd, Zaitz and Doyle keeping it tight and danceable while Francis gets vocal. It all falls over briefly, getting fun, frantic and free as Francis wails, then tightens up again allowing Cross to artily solo before bringing the sextet back together in a celebratory dance.

“Panda Village” is tight. It has a whiff of the club about it; starting with a grimy bass line, ending in a steel and steam, spaced-out middle through to end section that has Garcia in ascendance; gorgeous and soulful.

“Ciya” is smooth as. It’s sensual harmonising, sexual healing and Zaitz evoking a doting Benson/Mayfield lovechild in his rhythm playing. It’s all very adult and demands a glass of something velvety and red in one hand and a music-loving friend in the other.

“LDN’s Burning” is a burgeoning burner of a track that malfunctions as LDN crashes and burns. Fervent to the end.

This album is everything I’d hope and expect from Cross. It’s eclectic and groove-laden, sometimes tight, occasionally ferocious, at times restrained, a bit political and always fully connected to now through history. And, just like Theon Cross himself; it’s both essential and FYAH.

Ian Ward

Read also: Various ‘We Out Here’ LP/CD/DIG (Brownswood Recordings) 5/5 + 4/5