Trombonist Nathaniel Cross is a key presence on London's alternative jazz scene, just like his brother, Theon Cross, who plays tuba in Shabaka Hutchings' Sons of Kemet. Until now, however, Nathaniel has probably been better known among his fellow musicians than with the general public, for he has been most active behind the scenes as a session musician and arranger. Among other major names Cross has worked with are his longtime friend, drummer and producer Moses Boyd, on whose Mercury Prize nominated Dark Matter (Exodus, 2020) Cross played and arranged four of the ten tracks, singers Zara McFarlane and Macy Gray, and grime stars Stormzy and Kano.
The Description Is Not The Described should raise Cross' public profile considerably. A four-track EP coming in at around thirty minutes, it is packed with positive, uplifting jazz which in trademark London style augments its jazz foundation with elements of other musics, including calypso, Afro-Cuban, hip hop and broken beat. As well as Cross, the core band features two other cracking horn players, trumpeter Dylan Jones of Ezra Collective and tenor saxophonist Richie Garrison, another ranking session musician, whose credits include pianist Robert Glasper, trumpeter Roy Hargrove and saxophonist Soweto Kinch. Simon Mitchell is on keyboards and the drummer is Saleem Raman, a regular member of the house band at Ronnie Scott's.
The EP title is inspired by one of philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti's maxims. Cross chose it because he feels it reflects the state of the world in 2021. "So many of us are caught up in labels and descriptions that we end up looking at people for what they are, rather than embrace them for who they are," he says. "No matter how detailed the description is, it will never capture the essence."
Opening track "Goodbye For Now" is dedicated to Cross' late father, who passed in March 2020 at a tragically young age. Its opening bars make touching references to the signature ostinatos of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" and Pharoah Sanders' "The Creator Has A Master Plan." The track includes a short extract from a tape-recorded conversation between Cross, when he was a toddler, and his father, from a cassette which Cross found when he was sorting out his father's belongings after he passed. You can hear the love in both voices. The positive vibe is maintained in brief solos traded by Cross, Garrison and Jones (three from each of them). "Charge It To The Game" and "Light In The Darkness" are similarly vibrant, with more fine solos. The tempo, but not the heat, decreases a little on the closer, "Who Looks Inside, Awakes," a maxim coined by the psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Always good advice, it is newly appropriate in this age of social media, suggesting one looks for validation inside oneself rather than in the number of likes generated by tweets and instagrams. The Description Is Not The Described is a stonking debut, all the more welcome for being overdue.
Goodbye For Now; Charge It To The Game; Light In The Darkness; Who Looks Inside, Awakes.
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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.