Though its nuances may not be readily apparent online, the back and front sleeve art for Future Passed, London saxophonist and ex-Tomorrow's Warrior Tony Kofi's second album as leader, is reminiscent of the time-travelling cover of Curtis Counce's 1958 recalibration of hard bop, Exploring The Future.
There are no astronauts on Kofi's sleeve, true, but the retro TV console, its 1960s design inspired by NASA space helmets, and the deep space panorama surrounding it, suggest a similar restlessness with present time and space. There are musical parallels, too: both albums grow out of, but are not constrained by, the hard bop codifications of the late 1950s.
But while Exploring The Future was an attempt to fast-forward out of the era, Future Passed is concerned with recapturing its passion and hard driving swing. The album is an authentic recreation of the neon-lit soul-jazz of the period, flickering with glimpses of Jimmy Smith, Cannonball Adderley, Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley, and co-starring the full fat B3 Hammond of Anders Olinder, a young Swede who belies his professorial appearance by playing like he cut his teeth backing up Willis "Gator" Jackson in tent shows. All of the tunes are Kofi originals, distinctive but deep in the tradition. Greasy and hard swinging, as far retro as ever can be, it's the real deal.
But that's only part of the album's appeal, for the eloquence of Kofi's playingbe it ecstatic, meditative, funky, pretty or sorrowfulcan take the music beyond genre, into the timeless verities of the jazz continuum. The band is dynamite, too. Along with Olinders, who crackles and burns from start to finish, Kofi has assembled a formidable team of young London lions, including fellow ex-Tomorrow's Warriors Robert Fordjour on drums, happy most of the time to stay out of the spotlight and drive the engine, and guest trumpeter Byron Wallen, who steps forward magnificently on the boppish "The Journey" and with elegaic tenderness on Kofi's memorial to his father, "A Song For Pappa Jack."
In his own, less spectacular and more rootical way, Kofi is as important and to-be-treasured a player and composer as his contemporaries who are pushing back the boundaries via electronica, through-composition and infusions of rap, folk, world musics, minimalism, whatever.
The Journey; Suibokuga; Zambia; A Song For Pappa Jack; As We Speak; Blue Pavel; The Eternal
Thinker; Jubilation (For Bod); Brotherhood; April The 13th; This Dream Of Mine (For MJ); We
Tony Kofi: alto, soprano, baritone saxophones; Anders Olinder: B3 Hammond Organ; Robert
Fordjour: drums; Byron Wallen: trumpet (1,3,4); Cameron Pierre: guitar (5,8-10); Donald
Gamble: percussion (3,8).
In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.