Justin Thurgur ‘No Confusion’ LP/CD/DIG (Funkiwala) 4/5

justin-thurgur“No Confusion” is the first album as leader for trombonist, composer and arranger Justin Thurgur. Thurgur is not a new kid on the block though, having been actively involved across a number of music scenes for the past 20 or so years. He is probably best known as the trombonist in the folk group Bellowhead, but his background is in Jazz, African and Latin music. Much of his work has been in collaboration with Kishon Khan (on cross-cultural projects like Motimba and Lokkhi Terra), but he has also worked with a host of diverse musicians including Dele Sosimi, Tony Allen, Tony Kofi, Soothsayers, Roberto Pla and The Levellers.
Together with Khan, Thurgur has formed a record label, Funkiwala, through which they intend to release music from artists who share a similarly eclectic outlook. This integration and interpretation of different musical traditions, although not a new approach, fits within a broader spectrum of fusion styles amongst fellow contemporaries like of Snowboy, Collocutor, Shabaka Hutchings and the Ancestors, Vula Viel and Sarathy Korwar.
On to the music. Immediately apparent is the energy and broad soundscape of the ensemble, which varies in size and personnel from track to track, but works around a rhythmic core of drums, bass and keys alongside Thurgur and his horns, with augmentation from guitar and percussion. Thurgur and Khan (on keys) are the only constants, but the group dynamics coalesce into a united identity regardless of the configuration. He doesn’t stick to one style preferring a fluid blend within a melodic and groovy whole. Take, for example, the opener, “Straight Down To My Soul”, with its reggae infused groove, the dramatic, 60’s soundtrack cum ethio-jazz of “Meditations” or the Afro-Jazz of “Then And Now” with it’s latin-tinged piano lines. These ingredients aren’t haphazardly thrown together though, Thurgur has a great sense of what works and gets the blend right more often than not.

African flavours are the predominant ones emanating from the tight horn section of Thurgur, Tom Allan (trumpet) and James Allsopp (bass clarinet) with help from Graeme Flowers (trumpet and flugelhorn), Ben Somers (baritone sax), Rob Leake (saxes) and Tamar Osborn (baritone sax). The title track is a great example of the players bringing their A game; the horns really swing with a vengeance and the recording effortlessly captures plenty of live vitality.
Whilst the focus is primarily on the ensemble coming together, the soloing adds to the harmonies in an unpretentious way. Thurgur is very much a team player and doesn’t hog the limelight (which is a shame as I’m fond of a good trombone solo), giving plenty of space and time over to his fellow players.

There are a couple of elements that don’t work for me – the middle eastern intro to “Then and Now” segues awkwardly into the rest of the track and the chorus of “You’ve Got To” feels a bit overstretched, but these are minor criticisms of an album that overall hits all the right spots and acts as a great showcase for live performances.

Andy Hazell