This is a download-only release so far in the UK and Ireland. Not quite sure why the label has decided to do this (‘business’ reasons?) with one of the more interesting new jazz artists who has “star” written all over him to emerge this year. The polar opposite of what’s lazily called state-of-the art, in jazz trumpet terms at the moment that’s Ambrose Akinmusire who has to my mind released the best album of the year so far, Croker instead has his own name for his style: dark funk. Blessed with great tone and timing... but wait a minute: who is Theo Croker? Born in Florida in the 1980s (he turns 29 next month), the trumpeter is the grandson of Doc Cheatham name checked on the first track ‘Alapa’ so Croker is from trad-into-mainstream jazz royalty and made his debut on a little known album called The Fundamentals (a track of the same name is included here) and equally obscure In the Tradition although that found him along with Tootie Heath as well as the pianist here, Sullivan Fortner.
A winner of the Marcus Belgrave national jazz trumpet competition in the States there is a little funk in a New Orleans jazz sense and triphop (on ‘Light Skinned Beauty’) here, plus some AfroJazz (Caiphus Semenya’s ‘Bo Masekela’) mingling but at heart it’s an accessible and attractive heartland mainstream jazz record of real quality and ideas. Croker’s solo on ‘Moody’s Mood For Love’ will tell you all you need to know about where the trumpeter positions himself in terms of the tradition, eg the sound comes via the Little Jazz and Dizzy line, and Croker also compares well with the Nicholas Payton sound. Guests here include Dee Dee Bridgewater who produces the record, vibist Stefon Harris superb on Stevie Wonder’s ‘Visions’ again Croker soloing beautifully, and the wavery Roy Hargrove singing on ‘Roy Allan’, the worst track here! Tenorist Stacy Dillard (in the Lester Young mould) is a refreshing inclusion and ex-Mulgrew Miller and Ray Brown drummer Karriem Riggins from Detroit is a scintillating rhythmic presence comin’ atcha. Worth your time and pennies. SG
Theo Croker, AfroPhysicist, OKeh ****