Ezra Collective, a talented jazz group, has achieved a remarkable milestone by becoming the first jazz band to win the Mercury Prize in 2023. Comprised of Femi Koleoso, TJ Koleoso, Ife Ogunjobi, James Mollison, and Joe Armon-Jones, the band has ended a 31-year wait for recognition in British music.
A Long-Awaited Victory for Jazz
Since its inception in 1992, the Mercury Prize has been awarded to numerous musicians across various genres. Jazz groups have often been nominated, but they have largely been seen as a “token” presence. This year, however, Ezra Collective has broken the barriers and claimed the prestigious prize for their second full album, “Where I Want to Be” (Partisan).
The jury praised Ezra Collective for their virtuosity, community, and skill in listening to each other to determine their next steps in music. They admired how the band demonstrated “old-fashioned values” in their winning album of the 2023 Mercury Prize with FREENOW. The judges also recognized the significance of the British jazz renaissance over the past decade and applauded “Where I’m Meant to Be” for its fusion of reggae, soul, Latin, and Afrobeats, as well as its rhythmic intensity and call and response riffs.
Femi Koleoso’s Gratitude
In his acceptance speech, Femi Koleoso expressed his belief that the band’s victory was a testament to the power of music and the support they received from Tomorrow’s Warriors and Kinetika Bloco. He urged for continued support for young musicians and celebrated the special people who helped them along their journey.
Performance Review of Ezra Collective
In a 2019 review of the band’s live performance at Poisson Rouge in New York City, Dan Bergsagel praised the group’s ability to engage the audience with their diverse musical influences. Ezra Collective’s rendition of “Space is the Place” was described as “euphoric,” with its powerful sax intro and free-wheeling bass backing.
The Band’s Chemistry
The band’s camaraderie, feeling of being part of a bigger social music movement, and their big sound have been compared to Kamasi Washington’s West Coast Get Down. As Bergsagel noted, Ezra Collective distinguishes itself by playing together cohesively and interacting with one another on stage. The understanding between organ vamp and Femi Koleoso’s sharp rhythms, along with TJ Koleoso’s bass, creates a powerful groove in their music.