SXSW Music Interview: Joe Armon-Jones / Ezra Collective

Avant-garde jazz collective brings genre back to its roots

Ezra Collective (Photo by Dan Medhurst)

A blazing dynamo of jazz, funk, Afrobeat, Latin, hip-hop, and dub, Ezra Collective set SXSW on fire last year.

Now, the London quintet returns for round two, seeding the fields for the American release of its debut album You Can’t Steal My Joy in April. Drummer Femi Koleoso, his bassist brother TJ, keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones (who precedes the band with a solo showcase slot), trumpeter Dylan Jones, and saxophonist James Mollison make music for both the mind and the feet.

“The groove will never be inferior to the improvisation, and the improvising will never shake the groove – the two are one for us,” says bandleader Femi Koleoso.

"I think they're the same thing, really," demurs bandleader Femi. "My improvisation is finding different ways to express my need to move and joy when doing so. It comes really naturally to us. The groove will never be inferior to the improvisation, and the improvising will never shake the groove – the two are one for us.

"To bring as much joy and good vibrations to as many people as possible whilst being totally true to ourselves and representative of all that we individually stand for [is our goal]," he adds.

Ezra Collective thus moves jazz forward not by pushing further into the avant-garde, but by reconnecting the music to its roots as dance music.

"Feeling alienated by a lot of contexts in which jazz music was played in London as I was growing up gave me a real urge to make it accessible to everyone," the percussionist continues. "Including people that I saw myself in, who are more likely to listen to an urban radio station than a dedicated jazz one, and more likely to go to a £5 entry club than a bougie jazz club. By way of this being achieved, it's just a case of five people coming together and being themselves.

"People are attracted to that."

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at Sign up for our South By-specific newsletter at for news, reviews, and previews delivered to your inbox every day of the Fest. And for the latest tweets, follow @ChronSXSW.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

Patty Griffin on Her Battle With Breast Cancer and New Album
Patty Griffin on Her Battle With Breast Cancer and New Album
Local songwriter rises through the fire

Doug Freeman, March 29, 2019

Nardwuar Gifts Quin NFN a Copy of the <i>Chronicle</i> in New Video
Nardwuar Gifts Quin NFN a Copy of the Chronicle in New Video
“They had it everywhere. My momma was loving it.”

Kevin Curtin, March 26, 2019

More by Michael Toland
Andrew Cyrille Lays His <i>Declaration of Musical Independence</i> on UT
Andrew Cyrille Lays His Declaration of Musical Independence on UT
Rarified improv comes to campus

Jan. 16, 2020

Books, Box Sets & Reviews
The Replacements
Dead Man's Pop (Record Review)

Dec. 6, 2019


SXSW Music 2019, Joe Armon-Jones, Ezra Collective

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle