Xhosa Cole ‘K(no)w Them- K(no)w Us’ LP/CD (Stoney Lane) 4/5

‘K(no)w Them, K(no)w Us’ is the new and debut album from British saxophonist Xhosa Cole released through the Birmingham-based label, Stoney Lane Records.

Anticipation must certainly be high for this release – with Cole’s extensive list of awards and accolades growing by the year, it’s incredible to think that the artist is still only 24 years old. And that’s a comment intended only to highlight the inspirational levels of success and heights Xhosa Cole has already reached at such a comparatively early stage within his career…

A former recipient of 2018’s BBC Young Musician of the Year award and of the 2020 Parliamentary Jazz Award, Cole is a seasoned live performer and can further boast high-profile collaborations with artists including Courtney Pine and Soweto Kinch.

There’s something endearing about a debut album being presented as a love letter to those musical heroes who have provided the biggest source of inspiration over the years. Spearheaded by the album’s lead single – Woody Shaw’s ‘Zoltan’ – throughout ‘K(no)w Them, K(no)w Us’, Cole and company lovingly reimagine further classics by Ornette Coleman (‘Blues Connotation’), Thelonious Monk (‘Played Twice’) and Lee Morgan (‘Untitled Boogaloo’) in imaginative and inspired ways befitting a quartet of such immeasurable British-based talent.

The album title is something of an homage to the legendary trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie who, when addressing the pioneering efforts of the revered – and fellow horn player – Louis Armstrong, once said, “No him, no me”. When it comes to Gillespie’s teachings, Xhosa Cole has clearly taken more than just that one quote on board as part of the make-up to his own aesthetic as Gillespie is also quoted in a separate incident as having said, “As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and have one foot forward into the future”.

It’s potentially a perfect summation of Cole’s current mindset – by standing on the shoulders of jazz’s giants, and his own heroes, Xhosa Cole navigates his own path steering the genre into exciting new territories.

And aiding Cole in his quest are three musicians that, alongside the saxophonist, comprise a fierce quartet and an awesome ensemble of contemporary jazz’s heavy hitters. There’s the incredibly versatile Canadian-born and UK-based trumpeter Jay Phelps (Judi Jackson, Empirical), stand-up bassist James Owston whose own ‘Splitting the Atom’ live set from 2020 also features Cole guesting as part of the ensemble, and accomplished drummer Jim Bashford whose credits include work as part of the Rachael Cohen Quartet and as a member of Triyeoh. The album also boasts some outstanding contributions from saxophonist Soweto Kinch and pianist Reuben James.

‘K(no)w Them, K(no)w Us’ is an excellent album to carry forward those cherished qualities associated with Stoney Lane releases – that investment in young and emerging Birmingham-based talent with a distinct and unique perspective. I said at the top of this review that expectations would surely be high for this album and it delivers in every way it would have needed to. To hark back to that Gillespie quote, this album proves that Xhosa Cole has one foot rooted back in jazz’s past but now it’ll be interesting to see what he envisions for his future going forward.

Imran Mirza

Tour Dates Summer 2021

27th June: Ipswich Jazz Festival
11th July: Mostly Jazz Festival (Birmingham)
15th July: Hare & Hounds (Birmingham)
16th July: Symphony Hall (Birmingham)
23rd-24th July: Birchfield Jazz Festival (Birmingham)
29th July: Legacy Centre, Newtown (Birmingham)
4th October: Pizza Express, Soho (London)
9th October: Marsden Jazz Festival