Album Review: Theon Cross – Fyah [Gearbox Records; February 2019]

“People always underestimate the tuba” observes Theon Cross, whose new album Fyah sets out to put this straight with fierce intent.

Cross is an alumni of Tomorrow’s Warriors – the free music education programme resident at Southbank Centre, responsible for the health and diversity of the London jazz scene right now. His unstoppable tuba basslines underpin Shabaka Hutchings’ explosive Sons of Kemet and drive this impressive debut album.

A trio record for the most part, featuring fellow Warriors Nubya Garcia on tenor sax and Moses Boyd on drums, Fyah opens with ‘Activate’, arranged around a fat tuba bass hook over which Garcia spirals and Boyd’s drum breaks shift between drum and bass and ska.

Indeed, Fyah joins the musical dots of Afro-Caribbean music in London with traces of dubstep, soca and Afrobeat stirred confidently into the pot.

‘Panda Village’ features a rewind, while ‘The Offerings’ sees Boyd establishing a rhythm recalling Rastafarian Nyabinghi drumming, over which Cross and Garcia spa with their brass. A generous seasoning of reverb on the instruments fills out the trio and gives gravitas, allowing Garcia and Cross to solo, which they often do by departing in two different directions as the sax soars and the tuba plunges.

It’s inventive and danceable on record; live it is as the album confidently promises – fire.

Guest turns by Cross’ brother Nathaniel Cross on trombone, Wayne Francis on tenor saxophone, and Artie Zaitz contributing choppy afrobeat guitar to ‘Candance of Meroe’ add further fuel, propelling Fyah forwards, whilst the George Clinton-reminiscent ‘Radiation’ features a swaggering tuba bass line that would have Bootsy Collins quaking in his boots.

The pace slows briefly for ‘CIYA’, which sounds like Lover’s Rock meeting the music of George Benson and features perhaps the standout solo by the bandleader, as Cross makes his tuba flutter and flirt with the guitar.

Before the ideas and riffs threaten to ignite, ‘LDN’S Burning’ closes the set and this incendiary debut. Tomorrow’s Warriors has indeed gifted us a group of next-level musical contenders.