Theo Croker’s ‘BLK2LIFE || A FUTURE PAST’ is an Unendingly Listenable Jazz Go-To
Evan Dale // Sep 28, 2021
There are timeless albums, and then there are jazz albums. The entire spectrum is of itself an exploration of the whole constantly reinvented in the nature of the now – in the nature of whichever artist it is, as they exist in the moment of creation. There is, by nature, never a repeat – never an exact replica – of anything done within the stylistic spectrum. There is no perfection. There is always something experimental, new, and ultimately way-paving about jazz performance, records, and the albums that make up everything from jazz’s inception to the modern cloth. There is an element eternally reminiscent towards the century-plus timeline of the greats. And yet, some of the most contemporary of jazz albums are born with the idea of exploring, breaking down, and rebuilding tenets of an even deeper musical and cultural past, looking even further into the future still being crafted by the very experimentation from which jazz was born. Most importantly, and with all of that in suit, the best jazz comes from simply playing free.
Theo Croker is one of the premiere contemporary examples of exactly what it is that defines the indefinability of jazz as we understand and appreciate it today. There are others, too, who embody the identity of a stream of fluidity and artistry intersecting where the past meets the future with a simultaneous disregard for the very notion of time at all. Listen to the confluential meanderings of dynamic horn transcendentalist, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – who sources his own jazz indefinability from an intersecting of golden New Orleans roots, Southern tradition, and West African rhythm. Then, listen to the vibrant, oft-soulful leanings of Theo Croker, and hear the foundation laid by great jazz legends like his grandfather, Doc Cheatham, merging with the socially motivated direction of Neo-Soul, as well as infusions from electronic, spoken word, and hip-hop. There is abundance in the transcendence of jazz’s amalgamation with other styles that in so many ways it’s partially, of not predominantly, responsible for.
BLK2LIFE || A FUTURE PAST – from its title to its timeless sound – at once beckons for a past, sources from the present, and defies the existence of time as it relates to the tenets of jazz altogether. It is, in that description, a jazz album by its most time-honored, yet time-defying tradition. It’s also just a damn good time. At moments exuding, without ever committing, to the cinematic depth and intensity that can come to define a jazz album’s identity, Theo Croker’s collection instead brims with the intimacy and the light-hearted playfulness of a live set. With everything but the understated intermissionary monologues and the bandmate introductions, with the addition of a number of impeccably jazz-influenced vocalist to boot, BLK2LIFE || A FUTURE PAST idyllically orbits something approaching a masterpiece without ever taking itself so seriously as to be one. It’s instead, painfully playable, listenable to no end. Addicting.
Ari Lennox (Every Part of Me), Charlotte Dos Santos (Lucid Dream), Kassa Overall (Where Will You Go), Iman Omari (No More Maybe), Malaya (Happy Feet), and Wyclef Jean (State Of the Union 444) is a lineup of featuring artists that could soundtrack a collective Dreamville album; that could score a socioculturally motivated, award-winning film. And it is exactly the lineup that helps deliver BLK2LIFE || A FUTURE PAST to a promised land of jazz contemporaneousness balanced with buoyancy that makes any fan listening yearn for all the underground jazz clubs to reopen from whichever pandemic-related new-normalcy they now tread through. Theo Croker’s innate ability to capture the essence of stumbling downstairs to a late night venue where the subtle blaring of a trumpet bleeding out from the walls of a graffiti stained alley acts as the warmest of invitations, all the while merging with the soulful genius of his collaborators, places his 2021 album in the permanently downloaded folder of so many jazz fans on the lookout for their next staple go-to.