At Slim’s, members of Ezra Collective are truly ‘best friends playing different instruments’

Samuel Albillo/Staff

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Before Ezra Collective came on stage at Slim’s, the excitement in the crowd was palpable. People exclaimed about having seen the U.K. jazz band perform in London originally; who would have thought that they would now be on their first North American tour?

Definitely not the members of Ezra Collective. For them, this tour and performing in San Francisco was a far-off dream come true, as repeatedly expressed by drummer Femi Koleoso.

“We met at a youth club when we were teenagers and (now) we are just best friends playing different instruments,” said Femi. “This is a dream come true… we’re just so grateful, we can’t even hide it. I mean can you see the smiles on our faces?”

These smiles were foundational to the performance’s energy and immense success, as the five artists essentially threw a party on stage for the audience to participate in. The synergy between band members seemed stronger than ever — despite Ife Ogunjobi taking the place of original band trumpeter Dylan Jones for this tour.

The show began with “The Philosopher” from the band’s 2017 album Juan Pablo: The Philosopher. The song begins with a very light and nimble pace set by bassist TJ Koleoso and Femi, bringing the audience to its toes in anticipation. The trumpet and saxophone chorus of this song carried everyone away, and viewers forgot about the hour they’d waited for the band to arrive or the trek they’d made to get to Slim’s on a Wednesday night.

From the get-go, Femi’s charisma was infectious. Sweating and laughing profusely, the drummer stood up and danced as he kept the consistent, strong beat going. Even when, musically, he was just playing on the rims of his percussion set, he held up the stage. The other members looked to him to guide the performance, but they maintained their independence, each honing in wonderfully on their own respective sounds.

Throughout the performance, Ezra Collective stood true to its name by upholding a synchronized and blended sound founded on a basis of togetherness. At the same time, it also allowed for individuality to be expressed. When the band members played together, the band’s upbeat sound demanded that the audience dance to match its energy, and when each of them performed solos, the audience stood in awe. As they hyped each other up before each solo and eloquently introduced each song, the band members truly seemed to be “best friends playing different instruments.”

“This guy is my brother. I mean not like hip-hop brother, we actually have the same parents… he’s going to take you to intergalactic frequencies,” Femi said about TJ before the bassist performed a solo.

The Koleoso brothers talked the audience through the whole show, while Ogunjobi, saxophonist James Mollison and keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones laughed, danced and played along.

At the same time, Mollison and Ogunjobi often took center stage with their synchronized melodies that make up the choruses of many songs. Being in close vicinity to their sound allowed one to be enveloped and lifted up by their energy.

Of course, the band’s music was skillful. But it was the members’ energy and informality that made the show stand out. During Jones’s solo, the four others put their instruments down, picked up their Red Solo cups and started dancing together on stage. And at one point, TJ asked for a minute and spoke about what Ezra Collective wants out of their performances.

“It’s about if one person comes into the room and they’re moved in any way shape or form, that’s why we do this,” TJ said. “Regardless of what your government is doing or not doing, or what your partner is doing or not doing, or what your work, your manager, your ex-wife is doing or not doing, right here, no one can steal this from you.”

These apparently cheesy lines rung true at Slim’s that night because everyone in the room was moved in some way, shape or form.

Contact Malini Ramaiyer at [email protected]. Tweet her at @malinisramaiyer.