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Jazz Cafe

August 6, 2009







A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Singer/song-writer/guitarist Keziah Jones is, admittedly, a citizen of the world, a fact which offers endless possibilities to his music, imbuing it with layers inspired by his various ‘lives and loves, first and foremost among them,  that of his fellow Nigerian, the late great political activist and consummate Afrobeat innovator, Fela Kuti.  The fact that Jones was educated from the age of eight at private schools in England, after which he moved to Paris, (where he was discovered playing in the Metro and signed to Delabel) , relocated to London in 1997, the year of Kuti’s death, and now resides in Brooklyn, New York helps add density to the layers of his musical influences, primary among them Jimi Hendrix, and, judging by the smoothness of his vocals on slower paced numbers, the late Michael Jackson (who he also cites as an influence), along with other soul singers from various eras. Considering the springy familiarity of some of his funkier grooves on a couple of his more upbeat numbers, Sly and the Family Stone are also elementary among his influences, along with, as Jones himself stated, ‘Rick James and Parliament Funkadelic’. On occasion Jones has also been known to collaborate with jazz and hip hop musicians as well, so it would seem that for his music, diversity is the desired destination. Known as the originator of ‘Blufunk’, Jones’ first rather laid back, but nonetheless infectious single, ‘Rhythm is Love’, became a surprise international hit in 1993.

To prepare me for this, my first foray onto Jones’ landscape, I had listened repetitively to his soon to be released (August 10) EP ‘Nigerian Funk,’ a deliciously heady collection of infectious Afro-blues grooves and dance inducing funk which quickly lodged themselves into my discerning music loving consciousness, where they are sure to reside and be revisited for a good long while.

The house was well and truly packed out for Jones’ gig, his first at the Jazz Cafe since 2004 and, happily, some of the essential, compulsive tracks from this groovilicious EP were performed by him and his two worthy musical accomplishes, Michael Desir on drums and Dermott Freeman on bass.  Jones emerged in his trademark fedora (and shades) in a matching shirt and form fitting trousers of African, snack-skin like brown and white, smiled and launched into some very rock influenced guitar riffs, drawing smiles from the wedged in crowd in response, many of whom sang along with most of the songs he and his group played throughout the energetic set.  At one point, Jones somewhat wearily professed was the gig would be their ‘last after eight months of touring.’

‘Nigerian Wood’, the guitar flicking thumb in cheek title track from Jones’ fifth album, an ironic nod to The Beatles ’66 classic ’ Norwegian Wood’ rolls into its politically conscious lyrics and back out again, its’ moaning bass lines intermingling with its steadily rocking bass, with Jones’ soulfully wavering voice lending deceptively light-hearted weight to its’ Hendrix guitar peppered mix. Another of my (and potentially your) instantaneous favourites, ‘New York versus Lagos’ funkily argues the case for just what it says in the title and then some, and does so in a way that threatens to echo and re-echo through your own personal instant replay mix. In Jones’ eyes The Big Apple has much in common with Lagos, in particular, its international outlook and the uncompromising brashness, aka up front attitude and straight-forward mannerisms of its people. ‘International Area Boy’ another ironically penned gem from Jones’ compulsive sampler is a track with ‘classic’ written all over it, though it is classic in a way that may not be instantly acclimatisable to, a fact that brands it educational for the ears as well as the listening sensibilities. Jones work is nothing if not hybrid, a feature of his music that has always been present and, is at its best when it is most prevalent.
Other highly listenable tracks performed included the very rocky, funky and fine ‘A Million Miles from Home’, what I took to be a much earlier, but favourite track of Jones’, ‘1973’ about when he ‘went home for holidays’ with shades of Hendrix’s ‘Foxy Lady’ in its rapid-fire, slap bass style guitar solo, a neat blending of funky and kitsch, ‘Pass the Joint’, another early track with decidedly, ‘Thank You for Lettin’ Me Be Myself’ riffs liberally borrowed from the aforementioned Sly, conjuring up a sea of funky, but underlyingly bluesy, street-smart grooves. A speeded up version of Hendrix’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’ and a reprise of Jones’ 93’ initial infectious hit, ‘Rhythm is Love’, which most of the crowd sang along to, drew the heartiest applause, though the jazzily smooth ‘My Kind of Girl’ was a close third.

Drummer Michael Desir and bass player Dermott Freeman are true artisans when it comes to establishing concrete, un-ignorable funkiness. The two worked in unison throughout the set like a hot and heavy, groove-making machine, enabling Jones to weave his amiable magic via his eclectic guitar playing and varying vocal styling, each of which seemed to draw on both the aforementioned Kuti and Hendrix fairly heavily during the course of their set. At one point, Jones used his guitar, which he is already known for playing in a ‘slap bass’ style as a drum of sorts, rhythmically beating on its wood rather than playing its strings. A ‘Mr Wigget’ on sax for a few funked up numbers added icing to the cake. If there was one thing I could change about this concert, it would be the sound, which was sadly, something of a joke, with lyrics being too muddied to decipher and Jones’ mic cutting out twice.

Keziah Jones is very skilled at interacting with his audience and also seems to be a natural performer. As a showman, it would seem that he owes a lot to both his days a busker in the Paris Metro and his many and varied influences. As a musician, Jones would, more than likely, be equally at home in any Afro-beat, funk or soul band.
 ‘Blufunk’ was chanted at the break and when Jones re-emerged in a sun-burst patterned outfit he was greeted with cheers, which intermittently reoccurred and, were accompanied by screams during a blues record put after he’d left the stage to signify that the set had well and truly ended.

Given his considerable charisma, musical skills and diversity, it’s difficult to believe that Jones has not achieved a greater level of notoriety. At the opening of his set, he’d stated, ‘Long time, no see’ to the waiting crowd. Hopefully, we’ll all be seeing much more of Keziah Jones before too long.



Jazz Café

5 Parkway, Camden, London NW1 7PG,

Friday, 7 August - Tate Britain (room 9), Millbank, London SW1P 4RG,
LATE at the TATE Britain: LATE NIGHT RADIO, free admission,





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