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The Jazz Defenders: King Phoenix (Haggis Records) Out now



5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)



Music Republic Magazine raved about Bristol jazz outfit The Jazz Defenders’ first album, “Scheming” – giving it a deserved five star review back in 2020. A hard act to follow then for “that difficult second album”, you’d think.

Think again! The new one, “King Phoenix” is a cracker, and just as tasty as the debut long player, with an added cherry on top; a brace of hip hop-meets-jazz cuts with guest rappers doin’ their thang in style.

They deliver 10 originals, and whereas that debut album was a homage to the late 1950s/early 1960s classic hard bop jazz style, this release moves into new territory with hip-hop/jazz, cinema soundtrack flavours, Latin rhythms and soul jazz, all writ large and lovely.

The album was anticipated by three taster releases: double-sider 45 “The Big Man” / “Love’s Vestige”, “Live Slow” (featuring US rapper Herbal T), and single “Perfectly Imperfect” (featuring UK rapper and actor Doc Brown), all tracks on this album.

The assembled Jazz Defenders here are: George Cooper: piano, organ, Wurlitzer and percussion, who produced the record. Will Harris: double and electric bass. Ian Matthews: drums. Nick Malcolm: trumpet and flugelhorn. Nicholas Dover: tenor saxophone. Doc Brown: vocals track six. Herbal T: vocals track 10. John Pearce: violin tracks three and nine. Atholl Ransome: flute track nine. Leigh Coleman: vocals track six.

George Cooper is the driving force behind this band who formed in 2015. He is a real find as a musician, composer and producer: a triple threat!  Mixing it with some big names who have called upon his skills, such as U2, Hans Zimmer and Nigel Kennedy. George still in his early 30s.

Opener “Wagger Jaunt”is a slinky, electric piano-centric affair, peppered with tasty horns and a classy Herbie Hancock vibe. Very nice opening gambit. “Munch” maintains the groove and the quality offering, sat on greasy organ and again, some fine horn parts.

“The Oracle” could be lifted from the soundtrack of a James Bond blockbuster or even a Clint Eastwood western. A beautifully cinematic track with its lovely orchestral arrangement akin to any one of the legendary movie score composers. Super horn solo from Nick Malcom. George Cooper takes credit for the score here. It is quite something. Bravo. A clue as to where his career path should/might lead him in future, maybe?

“Twilight” is back to the jazz style, bass and piano leading here, with a straight-ahead jazz horn arrangement and a fine sax solo from Nicholas Dover. Next, “Love’s Vestige” has that lovely Brubeck groove, and some fine electric piano from GC.

Will’s pumping double bass line sets up “Perfectly Imperfect”, which features actor and MC Doc Brown on the rap part. A former single and very neat. Pretty sure, it will be the first time you’ll hear mention of “sausage egg McMuffin” in a song’s lyric.

“Reprise: Queen Bee”, a 58 second interlude before more straight ahead jazz on “From The Ashes”. “Saudade” features sassy Brazilian bossa rhythms, and some lovely flute-work from Atholl Ransome, with lush Grusin-like piano from Mr Cooper.

They close on a high, with the hip hop vibes of “Live Slow”, featuring US rapper Herbal T’s cool contribution on an up-tempo soul jazz number. Another lyric of note, when Mr T rhymes “parakeet” with “bare feet.” I’ll have what him and Doc Brown are drinking!

The Jazz Defenders’ 2020 debut, “Scheming” sounded like it could have been a long lost treasure dug up from the vaults of Blue Note et al. The new one, “King Phoenix” is a tad more forward looking, with its nods to hip hop and jazz soul.

Both albums are a must-have in your collection, from probably the most exciting British jazz outfit out there right now. Discuss!


By Graham Morrison



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