Entre sa jeune carrière solo déjà acclamée par la presse et le public et son travail avec les plus qu’influents Ezra Collective, le pianiste Joe Armon-Jones est aujourd’hui au centre de la bouillonnante scène underground londonienne. Après avoir reçu la distinction Session of the Year lors des Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards et avoir été nommé pour le UK Act of the Year aux Jazz FM Awards, Joe Armon-Jones dévoilera son très attendu deuxième album Turn To Clear View le 20 septembre sur Brownswood Recordings.

Turn To Clear View est le fruit d’une recherche effrénée de la part du musicien anglais d’un nouveau territoire qui repousse les limites concrètes de sa musique. Le travail accompli estompe plus que jamais les frontières entre bass music, musique de club contemporaine et le rôle pionnier d’Armon-Jones au sein de la scène jazz moderne; une vision singulière renforcée par des touches essentielles de R&B, hip-hop et p-funk disséminées au sein de l’album. Turn To Clear View déploie une musique aux textures affirmées, pertinente ici et maintenant, mais dont l’influence pour les années à venir ne fait aucun doute.

Inspiré par les expériences vécues par JAJ au cours de l’année écoulée, ce deuxième album est le fruit d’une écriture en continue et d’une approche très organique de la composition – les idées initiales sont rapidement enregistrées, comme des mémos vocaux, avant d’être développées, affinées, parfois sur plusieurs mois. Après en avoir écrit les partitions, Joe Armon-Jones et son co-producteur Maxwell Owin ont fait appel à une équipe élargie de musiciens proches pour enregistrer la globalité de l’album en deux jours. Le duo s’est ensuite affair à perfectionner chaque éléments, Armon-Jones participant à l’ensemble des sessions de mix et de mastering du projet. Chaque élément a été pensé avec précision : la plupart des claviers enregistrés, par exemple, l’ont été sur un Casio très peu cher emprunté à leur ami musicien Wu-Lu.

Turn To Clear View révèle le meilleur de la musique d’Armon-Jones en 2019: l’exemple le plus évident est certainement ‘Yellow Dandelion’, le single emblématique de l’album. Porté par la voix envoûtante de la visionnaire neo-soul Georgia Anne Muldrow, c’est néanmoins le flair unique d’Armon-Jones pour de délicates complexités et une dynamique originale qui donne toute sa substance au morceau. Entre crescendos puissants et soli mémorables aux claviers, ‘Yellow Dandelion’ redéfinit les contours d’un funk bien ancré dans son époque.

Cet amour pour une approche non-conventionnelle est présent aussi sur ‘The Leo & Aquarius’, l’instrumental cosmique de Joe Armon-Jones offrant au rappeur britannique Jehst un écrin de choix. Obongjayar (musicien déjà aperçu sur de nombreux projets, dont récemment aux côtés de Richard Russell) porte un esprit aventurier similaire, infusant la jam ‘Self: Love’ d’une touche highlife unique. Enfin, le morceau d’ouverture ‘Try Walk With Me’ donne clairement le ton de l’album – Asheber, déjà entendu sur l’album précédent, offre ce qu’il sait faire de mieux : ce cocktail entre musique latine et influences africaines baignées d’acid jazz. Turn To Clear View rassemble aussi quelques-uns des collaborateurs régulièrs de Joe Armon-Jones : Oscar Jerome, Moses Boyd et Nubya Garcia (signée sur le label Domino avec son groupe Nérija).


Joe Armon-Jones creates at his own pace. Given the whirlwind of activity that is the new London jazz scene and his place at the centre of it, you might expect the keyboard player to be frantic, stressed out even. Yet as he prepares to release his second album in as many years (his third if you count his work as one-fifth of Ezra Collective, which you most definitely should), Armon-Jones is serene as ever.
« I just like having something personal to work on to give me purpose and to keep me on the right track, so I don’t get lazy » he shrugs, sat in his bedroom in the Lewisham home he shares with DJ Maxwell Owin..

Despite the intense complexity of much of his music and the seemingly relentless schedules of London’s musicians, simplicity is key to Armon Jones’ creative process. An artist that writes continuously, whether on tour or at home, the moment he feels he has the bones of an album ready he assembles a band, more often than not fellow pillars of London’s scene, writes the charts and books a studio. His approach to music is studious rather than exhibitory. « Writing the album doesn’t take that long, » he muses in an attempt to explain how he manages to maintain a solo career, a position in one of the hottest bands in the capital and be one of the most in-demand players in his scene. « Recording doesn’t even take that long… I wrote the album in three or four days and recorded it in two. »
However, don’t mistake Armon Jones’ nonchalance for lack of care or effort. While the recording process may have been quick, the keyboard player explains that he spent months piecing tracks together and tweaking them after the fact. If there was a mixdown or mastering session, he was in the room.

The album itself is all the better for Armon-Jones’ focus. Just as sonically sprawling as his debut, Turn To Clear View is the next step on Armon-Jones’ journey beyond the boundaries of genre. With a rope tethered to his jazz training, the new album sees the acclaimed keyboardist explore R&B, – with Asheber on opening track ‘Try Walk With Me’ – funk – on ‘Yellow Dandelion’ with the iconic Georgia Anne Muldrow – and even UK hip-hop thanks to a contribution from pioneering MC Jehst (‘The Leo & Aquarius’). Elsewhere, rising star Obongjayar lends his vocals to closing track ‘Self:Love’ and Nubya Garcia steps up for a lung-busting solo on ‘You Didn’t Care’. It’s testament to Armon-Jones’ clarity of vision that such a diverse roster of guests sound so comfortable sat alongside each other on the record.
In the time since his last album, Starting Today – all 14 months of it – the London jazz scene of which he is a part has become one of the most hyped musical movements of a generation, and many of Armon-Jones’ friends and collaborators have become stars in their own right. Moses Boyd – who plays drums on one half of Turn To Clear View – has a residency on Radio 1Xtra, Nubya Garcia – one of Armon-Jones’ most long term collaborators – has signed to Domino as part of the septet Maisha, and is a pillar of London’s scene in her own right and Femi Koleoso, the drummer and de-facto band leader for Armon-Jones’ group Ezra Collective has been touring the world with Jorja Smith.

As for Armon-Jones, he’s been busy selling out solo headline shows and racking up awards and nominations. In the last year alone he’s won a Worldwide Award for ‘Session of the Year’, got a nod for ‘UK Act of the Year’ at the Jazz FM Awards, sold out the Village Underground, hailed as a ‘must see’ at SXSW, “one to watch” by the Observer, and picked up praise from the likes of Pitchfork, Dazed and Complex.
Given these successes, you might expect that the free-flowing nature of the scene that gave birth to his debut has changed somewhat and that where once his peers may have all been a just DM away, now things have to be done through more official channels. Luckily, Armon-Jones says, that’s not the case. His new album features almost the exact same line-up as his first and in fact, boasts even more collaborators, all of whom, he assures me, came about organically and before his label, Brownswood, even knew he was making a new record.
« It hasn’t really changed the way I look at them, to be honest, » Armon-Jones says of his peers, in typically relaxed fashion. « I’ve always looked at Moses like ‘wow you’re insane at drumming’, he’s so together, he’s thinking about the next two years in a very thought out way. What you’re seeing Moses do know, he knew he was going to two years ago. Same with being around Femi, it was obvious he would be successful. I knew it would happen. Same with Nubya. It’s nice to see, but it’s not surprising… they seemed successful from when I met them because they were doing what they wanted. »

Similarly, he’s not worried by the increased attention his new album will inevitably garner and any notion of a ‘difficult second album’ or pressure to live up to the hype seems is dismissed with admirable stoicism. « I think it’s easy to think it’s blown up from where we’re sitting because we hear about it all the time, » he says. [But] that’s not how it works. It blew from the minute Shabaka [Hutchings] started playing the clarinet when he was six or whatever, and it’s going to continue to blow. »
Hype may come and go, but Armon-Jones seems sure that the music, and he and his peers’ desire to create it in the uncompromising, experimental way that has won them that hype, will remain. « People might stop paying attention, but I don’t think it will stop Shabaka playing as many gigs as he does, or Nubya playing as many as she does. It won’t stop any of us writing. It won’t slow that down. People who are swept in the hype now might move on, but that’s fine because they probably weren’t buying the records anyway. »