The first drops from the trumpet are the sound of Theo Croker pure and straightforward, his sound is always warm, bright, and abundant, it turns on the light in dark places. I usually imagine him in a cartoon shape, kind of manga style, standing out of a door in a dark ally, and when he plays the one lamp on top of the door turns on and the night is on and bright, that’s how his playing sounds to me. Now with the opening of Escape Velocity this image in my imagination is again there. The prologue words are a monumental exaltation for what I believe is one of the characteristics of Theo’s music.
Then comes a background sound, packed with effects and post production, full, shiny and loud to drawn you in a tsunami of sound that wraps around you, runs through you, and fill you up with music. Then comes “Transcend” and the bass’ loop cleans up the road for the trumpet to enter and finally we can feel the orchestra, each instrument revealed, not fully exposed, but located in their space for you to distinguish points of origin.
The two opening songs are a bold bet announcing grandiloquent moments and preaching spiritual words opening the door for us the listeners to debate the theme of the album, its direction, and its value, and then discern and choose if to buy the message or not. Jazz and RnB have a history of artists preaching spirituality, so in case you are into it you could certainly find a lot of information to swim deeper into this. Personally I rather focus in the music first, the messages sound good, but first I need to get into the music if I’m going to buy anything else.
To my believe the most awesome thing about Theo Croker’s playing is his total disregard for discomfort, choosing to chill instead of stressing when things get more complicated, he is always singing with his trumpet, and so it feels like he is always opting for enjoying the fall, and playing with zero worries about the result, just focused into what he is meaning to say. I like to listen to his sound straightforward and raw, live, then you get to hear so much more of that process in the little sounds that are free in the chaos of a live show, these sounds give you contrast to feel where and how he is controlling the music and himself, and then realize how comfortable he is with his trumpet. “This Could Be (For the traveling soul)” is that moment, you get to listen more of him, you can feel he likes this groove, he even goes over it again and again. So after the grand opening here you get a taste of what Theo Croker’s trumpet sound like when you are closer. The groove is fun, a little latin, a little funky, the instruments are chilling while building a solid ship that’s safely moving so everything else is about enjoying the trip.
The proposal of Escape Velocity isn’t simple really, it’s friendly though as it speaks with catchy melodies, but beneath its flow there are some deep contradictions at battle and a lot of work, maybe even a tiny bit of over work, it is intense, it comes heavy loaded with sounds, electronic sounds, metallic sounds, digital music is the canvas to draw jazz on it, but you could also think is backwards. The display of drama is traditional and extravagant and it stays in reason and good taste, but it’s in the transitions where it gets way more interesting for the ears into consistency, especially in those turns where all the instruments are rev matching & down shifting, there the fun is very smart and more transcendental than where it says it is, where music is really dominating. This is actually a traditional dichotomy of jazz, and of so many other things too, that all is looking forward to get to the top but the best really occurs when the road is tougher. The vibes of Escape Velocity come from anywhere you want, RnB, pop, bebop, hip hop, soul, even dubstep if you want to hear that too. It’s mostly loud, even when is slow. And if you listen to it more than a couple of times, and take the ride open minded, you might find yourself humming the tunes before you notice.
I have listened to Escape Velocity for a long time, and the first weeks I was strongly driven to get stuck in the first four songs over and over again. To me “In Orbit” is the hypothesis of the album. That vibe at the beginning of fluorescent lights at a train station in the 70s or around then when digital was more like a menace than a reality, when policemen were superheros in TV. The talk about the deal in process, about the balance between agreeable, honest, and honestly agreeable. The duality, the multiplicity of things. The talk of the instruments goes around and transforms in different ways with the music speaking about it, bringing out different shapes for this battle for balance between forces that might not be always opposites but neither easy to put together, commercial vs authentic, pop vs jazz, digital vs analog. The keyboard has a secret power in this tune, a subtle hypnotizing effect that could totally distract and confuse, you might totally ignore it if I wouldn’t be telling you about it now, it comes in quiet, and it operates like a veil but later it turns to be the force creating the ground for the real battle to happen. The inner power of arpeggios and loops. And the last part of the idea, a coolest of it, the psychedelic dialogue of the horns, how psychedelic is necessary to get in order to fly the vibe as deeply as possible keeping it authentic and avoiding to loose control, keep the mess under control. They go nuts over each other until bordering nonsense and therefore opening a chance for magic to happen if it flows to the end. All this driven by simply mad drums, which is one of the big statements all around Escape Velocity, and probably Theo’s music, horns vs drums… forever.
My personal favorite moment of Escape Velocity happens with “A Call to the Ancestors,” when I’m listening the album some times I get away of it, I blame the comfortable melodies for my distraction, I could be wrong and it’s just that my summer was crazy busy, but whatever it is, if I’m out of it “A Call to the Ancestors” always bring me back into the heart of Escape Velocity, and personally, I love deeply the horns shadowing, pushing, secretly following the drums. I love this track, I feel it’s a hole in the over-condensed forest for the sun to come in.
“Meditations,” yes bebop, or post bop, just leave it bop. It has this thing that every time I hear it I want to go back to listen to Theo’s first album The Fundamentals, an album that I think it will be well weight in the future (hopefully sooner than later), that album made me a Theo Croker’s fan. In “Meditations” Dvrk Funk is full out there, if you didn’t notice them before then here you will get it, the band is colluded in their crime, equally entangled in their rationalizations, committed to the mission, drunk in their own fun self. I’m skipping the obvious reference to Coltrane here, but I’m sure there is a lot of material here to shred by the jazz geeks here.
It was just until I got totally done with the first part of the album that I began to really dive deep in its second part. Just today I woke up with “We Can’t Breath” in my mind even before I was totally awake, these tunes are draws of skylines, groovy beats, cool vibes, “Real Episode” is another one that I’ve been humming recently, these songs also remind me of Theo playing with Alec Haavik, lighting up the after hours of Shanghai. These songs could very well be used by some producers or Djs they have fun dimensions to play with them. “Because Of You” has a nostalgic smell that if it catches you in the right vibe it could turn you into water a little bit at least. And at the end, “Rahspect” is a very sweet lullaby to fall for.
Theo Croker’s fourth album, and fifth release is an important mark in his career, he is at a next stop, and probably he is at a next stop every other week with his touring schedule these days. The promotion and performance of Escape Velocity is taking him to new lands in many ways. Escape Velocity has had a strong promotion, Theo’s music is now in torrent, which I think is a good indicator of popularity, more important than iTunes in terms of what listeners really want.
I personally wish that the album wouldn’t have an spiritual slogan beyond the titles and the lyrics which are cool and certainly match with the music, but more than that seems to be unnecessary, the music is enough information by itself, and with music, and spirituality, it’s crucial to keep the ingredients in balance. After listening to Escape Velocity all the many times I have until now I chose to react to the music, and keep my listening strategy of avoiding to take seriously the promo booklets. The music is the message I prefer, I want to listen to Theo Croker singing with his trumpet and showing off his splendid ease with music, that’s inspiring and it can be transforming. And coincidentally (or not) Escape Velocity is about conflicts, its battles are great, its tunes remain. It’s open but it also has riddles for those who want to play, think, dive into its deep waters and be transform by music.
Escape Velocity is Theo Croker’s fifth release, and third release with his band Dvrk Funk, they are Kassa Overall on drums, check him out especially when driving in “In Orbit.”Eric Wheeler on bass, fresh as cream just made, tip: follow him in “Real Episode” and “Love From The Sun.” Femi Temowo on guitar, hear his solo in “Meditations” and be taken. Michael King on keyboards has the strength and command to be wherever is necessary at each moment in order to keep things in style, he knows many tricks, listen him too on “We Can’t Breath.” The other horns in the line of fire are Irwin Hall and Anthony Ware both of them pairs of Theo Croker since his times in Shanghai, the talking between them is sometimes hermetic but always cool as cool Croker can be. There is the one and only Dee Dee Bridgewater too singing “Love From The Sun” a song by Roy Ayers that Bridgewater recorded back in 1974, and reappears here to join its previous editions. Escape Velocity was produced by Theo Croker and Kassa Overall and released under Sony Music.
Theo Croker and Dvrk Fvnk are currently in a tour that will take them all around the planet until the end of 2016, in October 10th and 11th he will be at The Blue Note in Beijing. Check all the tour dates. Get the album in any of the links on Theo Croker’s website.