The Mic's Dominic Allum reviews Theon Cross' take on Nottingham's Bodega.
The tuba is perhaps not the first instrument that comes to mind when thinking of virtuosic performance. Being the lowest-pitched instrument in the brass family, it traditionally acts as a supporting cast member in most jazz bands, providing the bass but rarely getting the chance to be centre stage. Yet, on another packed Thursday night at The Bodega, Theon Cross showed it is an instrument that deserves more time in the spotlight.
''The band interlaced and overlapped each other with precision and respect''
Known predominantly as a core member of the jazz group Sons of Kemet, Theon Cross is one of the finest musicians working in the UK jazz scene at the moment, and arrived at The Bodega in support of his latest solo album Intra-I. Meaning ‘within self’, it is a brilliant record that not only sees Cross explore his ancestry, heritage, and inner mind, but the musical limits of the tuba. Creating almost every sound on the album from just the one instrument, using various effects and loops to manipulate the noise produced, I was interested to see how he would transform the record into a live experience.
The answer appeared predominantly in the form of a 4-piece band. Alongside frontman Cross, the rest of the line-up was completed by Patrick Boyle on Drums, Nikos Ziarkas on guitar and Chelsea Carmichael on the saxophone.
Kicking off with an intensity and relentlessness that would be maintained throughout the set, the band interlaced and overlapped each other with precision and respect, everyone working not in competition, but in unison to help build a powerful and emotive wall of sound.
Shifting from drum-led dub rhythms to orchestral sax melodies, each member of the band was given their moment to shine – everyone bar Ziarkas even leaving the stage at one point to allow full focus to be placed on his intricate dissection of the pedals that surrounded him.
However, it was hard for eyes to be fixed anywhere other than on Theon Cross himself. Creating an array of sounds you wouldn’t think were possible from just one instrument, he is without a doubt the ultimate master of his craft, at times even simultaneously providing melody and percussion as he beatboxed into his mouthpiece.
''He alternated from being lost in his own world, eyes shut and head raised, to being deeply connected and engaged with those stood in front of him''
By no means a light instrument either, Cross danced the tuba around the stage with a joy and ease that made me tired just watching him. Clearly passionate about sharing his music with others, he alternated from being lost in his own world, eyes shut and head raised, to being deeply connected and engaged with those stood in front of him, addressing the audience frequently with an endearing humility.
Taking a brief break from the music towards the end of the set, Cross spoke about the contemplation he himself took part in during lockdown, reassessing what he wanted from this world and how he was going to navigate this so-called ‘new normal’. This reflection and self-exploration should not be feared but instead embraced, looking back at our own lives and the lives of those who came before us, allowing us to become better people today. As the audience chanted along to the call and response section on final track The Spiral, the echoed words of “the spiral is vital” never seemed to ring more true.
Edited by: Amrit Virdi
Featured image courtesy of Dominic Allum. No changes made to this image. Permission to use granted to The Mic.
In-article videos courtesy of Theon Cross via YouTube.