Album Of The Week: Kokoroko – Could We Be More

The London eight-piece realise four years of astounding rise with their vivacious debut

In the late 2010s it was hard to avoid hearing about the wave of talented youngsters making up the so-called burgeoning London jazz scene, with the likes of Shabaka Hutchins, Nubya Garcia, Ezra Collective and Steam Down awakening corners of Peckham and Deptford to the thrilling immediacy of this sound.

This “new breed of genre-blind, rhythmically direct jazz musicians”, as one writer for Jazzwise put it in 2019, “has been attracting youthful, multi-cultural audiences not seen in the UK for a generation, pioneering a radical and overdue shift in perception.” A capsule of this moment can be found on We Out Here, a 2018 compilation curated by Hutchings and released by Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings that would soon inspire the launch of the festival of the same name.

Featuring the head nodding honks of Theon Cross and the rumbling rhythm section of Moses Boyd, We Out Here’s most significant gift was its closing moment, ‘Abussey Junction‘, a meditative slow-burning beauty from the then unknown Kokoroko that entwined jazz and Afrobeat with a sense of journeyed weariness.

KOKOROKO | Rhythm Section with Beefeater

This understated and intimate introduction seemed to fast-track the eight-piece to the fore of this swelling scene, and from then on the energy was ignited. Singles ‘Carry Me Home’ and ‘Baba Ayoola’ showed a change in pace; dynamic jazz with bright beacons of West African highlife and soul guided by trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey.

So significant has their profile become since 2018 that it’s almost a surprise to remember that their new album, Could We Be More, is their debut. The opening moments seem to answer its own question, as the psychedelic sway of ‘Dojo’ add a headier dimension to the more jolting feeling of recent singles. It’s worth noting though that even at its most abstract (perhaps the tense ‘War Dance’) the record is always palatable enough for a dinner party — don’t expect to reach the cosmic depths of some of the band’s peers.

Kokoroko - Age of Ascent

Instead, a content dreaminess continues in the reverb heavy trombones on ‘Ewà Inú’ or the hypnotic shuffle of ‘Something’s Going On’, awakening often for moments of bliss, as on the carnival celebration ‘We Give Thanks’ or the neo-soul nostalgia of ‘Those Good Times.’ The sparse inclusion of vocals often add to this atmosphere, rarely taking the spotlight for themselves.

The horn trio with alto saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi and trombonist Richie Seivwright joining Maurice-Greay leads with pure confidence, their melodies feeling somehow intuitive, bold and incisive. Their regular harmonies add faint moments of melancholy to what is ultimately uplifting, most potently on ‘Soul Searching’ or ‘Age Of Ascent’.

Could We Be More comes hardly as a necessity for Kokoroko, whose live improvisations and steady approach to releasing music have taken the band on a journey significant in itself. But as a realisation or marker of the group’s wondrous four years, it is entirely enjoyable regardless.

Could We Be More by Kokoroko is available to buy and stream now. Get it here.