Album Remarks & Appraisals:
New album from today's most promising young trumpet player, Theo Croker, and his band DVRKFUNK. Influenced by electronic and hip hop records while expanding on jazz legacy. Featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater on the track "Love from the Sun". Follow up to Croker's critically acclaimed 2014 album Afrophysicist.
Theo Croker's new album, Escape Velocity, arrives unchecked and un-filtered. It doesn't attempt to fit any one specific musical category, but draws upon the core principles of jazz, merging styles and ideas to a unique sound. This innovative, alchemic amalgam reflects Croker's mission to embrace the past while freely evolving the music forward. He rejects limitations and shirks boundaries. "In an effort to remain honest, music must serve not only as an artistic expression of humanity through tones and rhythms, but it must also reflect the society that gave it life," says Croker. "My life experiences have allowed me to share an eclectic, global viewpoint and my music gives listeners a look into that world." Trumpeter/composer Theo Croker was raised in Leesburg, Florida. The grandson of New Orleans trumpet legend Doc Cheatham, Theo graduated from Oberlin College Conservatory where he studied with jazz legends like Gary Bartz, Robin Eubanks, Billy Hart, Wendell Logan, Marcus Belgrave and Dan Wall. After college, Croker moved to Shanghai, China where he broadened his concept of jazz to encompass other surprisingly complimentary genres such as salsa, fusion/rock, R&B, hip hop and blues. It was in Shanghai where Theo met and performed for the first time with vocal icon Dee Dee Bridgewater who took him under her wing. Theo and his band DVRKFUNK are Dee Dee's touring band and she produced his critically acclaimed 2014 album, Afrophysicist.
Wall Street Journal
His music is full of catchy tunes and pervasive, danceable funk rhythms; he's the rare American jazzman who draws on the legacy of Fela Kuti as much as that of Miles Davis.
The New Yorker
Although Croker is the grandson of the beloved arch-traditionalist trumpeter Doc Cheatham, he couldn't be any less of a style-bound thinker.
Audio Mixer: Matthew Sim.
Liner Note Author: Gary Bartz.
Recording information: Bunker Studios, Brooklyn, NYC (01/12/2015-01/16/2015); Danbro Studios, Brooklyn, NYC (01/12/2015-01/16/2015); Masai Records, Shanghai, China (01/12/2015-01/16/2015); Schallrausch Studios, Vienna, Austria (01/12/2015-01/16/2015); The Studio, Brooklyn, NYC (01/12/2015-01/16/2015); Bunker Studios, Brooklyn, NYC (01/22/2015-01/23/2015); Danbro Studios, Brooklyn, NYC (01/22/2015-01/23/2015); Masai Records, Shanghai, China (01/22/2015-01/23/2015); Schallrausch Studios, Vienna, Austria (01/22/2015-01/23/2015); The Studio, Brooklyn, NYC (01/22/2015-01/23/2015); Bunker Studios, Brooklyn, NYC (04/06/2015-04/10/2015); Danbro Studios, Brooklyn, NYC (04/06/2015-04/10/2015); Masai Records, Shanghai, China (04/06/2015-04/10/2015); Schallrausch Studios, Vienna, Austria (04/06/2015-04/10/2015); The Studio, Brooklyn, NYC (04/06/2015-04/10/2015); Bunker Studios, Brooklyn, NYC (04/13/2015-04/14/2015); Danbro Studios, Brooklyn, NYC (04/13/2015-04/14/2015); Masai Records, Shanghai, China (04/13/2015-04/14/2015); Schallrausch Studios, Vienna, Austria (04/13/2015-04/14/2015); The Studio, Brooklyn, NYC (04/13/2015-04/14/2015); Bunker Studios, Brooklyn, NYC (05/05/2015); Danbro Studios, Brooklyn, NYC (05/05/2015); Masai Records, Shanghai, China (05/05/2015); Schallrausch Studios, Vienna, Austria (05/05/2015); The Studio, Brooklyn, NYC (05/05/2015).
Editors: Max Dahm; Matthias "Doktor Audio" Ermert.
As the grandson of the late trumpeter Doc Cheatham, and former student of legendary jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd, trumpeter Theo Croker is an artist steeped in jazz tradition. Well-versed in the swing, bop, and modal styles of acoustic jazz, Croker's own music reveals a love of organic funk, soul, and gooey, groove-oriented hip-hop. It's a vital amalgam that would have pleased the forward-thinking Byrd, whose own '70s funk-jazz albums are an obvious touchstone for Croker on his hypnotically enlightened 2016 effort Escape Velocity. He championed this sound on his 2014 Dee Dee Bridgewater collaboration, Afro Physicist, and he pushes it to the limits on this follow-up. Taking the production reins from Bridgewater, who also appears here on the euphoric "Love from the Sun," Croker has crafted a set of deeply spiritual, densely layered, yet beautifully uncluttered compositions that find him bringing his funky world view into sharply illuminated focus. Croker details his point of view on the spacy opener "Raise Your Vibrations," in which he delivers a spoken word poem saying, "Our divine earthly purpose is our own to fulfill." Helping to raise Croker's musical vibrations is his ensemble, a group he's played with for several years, featuring saxophonist Anthony Ware, keyboardist Michael King, guitarist Ben Eunson, bassist Eric Wheeler, and drummer Kassa Overall. Also adding color to the proceedings are guitarist Femi Temowo and saxophonist Irwin Hall. While Croker certainly divines inspiration from Byrd's '70s albums, there's nothing retro about his own bass-and-drum-heavy sound. Cuts like the swirling "In Orbit" and the head-bobbing "This Could Be (For the Traveling Soul)," find Croker weaving in elements of shimmering electronica and subtle world music textures that feel more contemporary than old-school. Other tracks, like the soaring "Transcend" and the organ-driven "Changes," bring to mind no less than a feverish combination of the dramatically soulful '70s work of saxophonist Gato Barbieri and the brightly hued '90s acid-jazz of the Brand New Heavies. While Croker's creative vision is a hybridized, cross-pollinated take on jazz, he remains at his core an exploratory improvisationalist. Cuts like the propulsive "Meditations" and the socially minded, Latin-tinged groover "We Can't Breathe" (inspired by the 2014 choking death of Eric Garner), are long enough to allow for some edge-pushing solos from Croker and his band. Ultimately, with Escape Velocity, Croker proves he's got deep ideas about life, spirituality, and how music connects us all. It's an ebullient, groove-conscious message perhaps best expressed on the bass-heavy "It's Gonna Be Alright." Trading the song's title phrase back and forth like old friends high-fiving on the street, you can hear Croker and his band smiling. ~ Matt Collar