Theon Cross is likely best known for being the tuba player in the Mercury Price nominated and Wire Magazine album of the year winning Sons of Kemet. Cross plays the tuba with a deftness and fluency that it feels like he's fighting the instrument's identity. The result is a sound all his own, and on Fyah is given a wonderful platform to flex by his band of London's current wave of jazz musicians.
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What do you hear when you think of our large friend, the tuba? If you’re anything like me it’s probably slow and booming bass notes, filling out the bottom end of an orchestral score. Or maybe the lumbering but dignified bass line at the core of a brass band. Reader, let me introduce you to another option; Theon Cross.
Rarely do you come across a musician capable of completely redefining your understanding of an instrument but Cross does just that. The tuba was invented in 1835, and I don’t know that it’s ever been played the way Cross does. You’re probably most familiar with his for his work with wonderful Sons of Kemet, but there he was very much a supporting member (though still very much a vital one). One Fyah, where he is the bandleader, Cross shows us not just his full potential, but also his instrument’s.
For the most part Cross is willing to continue the role he usually plays. Straight from the start on ‘Activate’ Cross showcases the power of a crunchy tuba bass line, and in its rawness how it can play a similar but different role to stringed bass. He takes the lead, meaning the more frenetic instruments (saxophones mostly) are very much in conversation with him. And when he wants to be the loudest voice in the room, everyone gets out of his way for their own safety. His explosive improvisations like on ‘Candace of Meroe’ go higher and are faster than I can believe. To play how he wants Cross has to battle his instrument, and our preconceptions. The result is amazing and strange and unique. London’s burning, and Theon Cross started the fire.
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