London-based jazz 8-member band Kokoroko have finally released their debut album after years of working on their craft and building their fanbase to a global reach. Their 2018 single “Abusey Junction” off the Brownswood compilation album We Out Here pretty much went viral, propelling them into the spotlight and shining a bright light over the growing jazz and afrobeat scene in the UK. The replay value to their music is so high, which makes it feel a bit strange calling Could We Be More their debut album, but it’s finally here and I am so pleased. The 15-track, 49-minute album is a soft, delicate and soulful journey through infectious grooves that take inspiration from afrobeat and highlife (Ebo Taylor and Pat Thomas to name a few), as well as the spirituality and freedom of jazz music. Their ability to combine both styles in a cohesive body of work is admirable, and there is a lot of musical maturity within the group that really shows on this album. The cohesiveness and togetherness of the musicianship of the band, and in particular this album, is really something special.
The dynamic basslines, atmospheric synths and brass instrumentation that kicks “Tojo” off is incredible. The guitar and basslines throughout are just so infectious, and they are really able to bring a lightness to their music that is definitely needed. The aura and beauty of “Ewà Inú” is special, as Sheila Maurice-Grey leads the way with emphatic trumpet leads, with Ayo Salawu’s drumming giving the track a dynamism to it. The absolutely gorgeous guitar leads on “Age Of Ascent” from Tobi Adenaike-Johnson are just sublime, and Yohan Kebede’s synths and keyboard leads and gorgeous, with the brass and percussion sections elevating the tribal, raw energy of their music. That’s one thing they do really well. For a group that creates moments of pure beauty and euphoria, they sure know how to combine that with heavier, more dynamic moments that bring energy to their sound. It’s also the way they are able to seamlessly flow from one track to another that makes Could We Be More a special listening experience. The dynamic and heavy rhythm of “Dide O” is also fantastic, with emphatic sax and trumpet leads from Sheila and Cassie Kinoshi, who also provide subtle vocals. The absolutely infectious and wonderous afrobeat rhythms on “Soul Searching” are also absolutely special, with the track building and building towards an enthralling climax that quietens as the track closes out. The colour of “We Give Thanks” features some of the best percussion on the album from Onome Edgeworth, but it’s the bright and lively guitar leads that really make this a special track. The vocals on “Those Good Times” are beautiful and sound slightly R&B-like, while the intensity of “War Dance” with its driving beat makes it another stellar moment on the album. The wailing trumpet leads, the groove, the bassline of the track make it one of my highlights on the album. As the album closes out with a few more mellow and emotive tracks – “Home” and “Something’s Going On” are just so incredibly potent, with the latter track carrying more of a heavy, socially conscious message that hits home.
As a debut album, Kokoroko’s Could We Be More couldn’t be more of a fitting way to re-announce themselves to the world. They just make incredibly good, soulful and emotive music. Their music is layered, textured and full of spellbinding moments that capture the incredible talents of all 8 members of the band, and they really exceeded expectations on this incredible album.