Moses Boyd: Dark Matter review – dancefloor-friendly kaleidoscopic jazz from UK drummer

Ammar Kalia
Moses Boyd: Dark Matter review – dancefloor-friendly kaleidoscopic jazz from UK drummer. (Exodus)He’s known as a jazz stalwart but this album brings Boyd’s nuanced production skills to the fore in artfully spliced, stylish tracks

Drummer Moses Boyd has always been a difficult musician to pin down. Half of the fiercely propulsive free jazz duo Binker and Moses, he was heralded as a poster boy of the London jazz revival when they won a Mobo for best jazz act in 2015. But his first solo offering, 2016’s Rye Lane Shuffle, was a dancefloor-focused 12-inch that was closer to the jazz-inflected house of Theo Parrish than any regular improvised setup.

Boyd followed this with two more Binker and Moses releases and a production credit on singer Zara McFarlane’s reggae-jazz 2017 album Arise, as well as a collaborative release in 2018, Displaced Diaspora. Dark Matter, his debut solo LP, is just as variable and no less confounding.

Opener Stranger Than Fiction begins with a twinkling roll call of keys and cymbal washes before descending into a bouncy, tuba-driven rhythm reminiscent of a snappy early 2000s grime instrumental. A soaring trumpet solo then takes over, disregarding the leaden weight of the groove, as if sound-clashing two tracks at once. That clash is a staple of the record, as with Poppy Ajudha’s crystalline vocals on the broken beat Shades of You sequenced next to Obongjayar’s earthen growl on dubby following number Dancing in the Dark.

Boyd is a skilled producer, artfully splicing warm acoustic tones with tempestuous electronic samples. At times he can over-produce, cloaking his tasteful melodies with layers of hand claps, keys and undulating bass, as on Nommos Descent. This is a record that tries to bottle the intricate energy of jazz improvisation into an orchestrated studio production when it has always been the freedom of live performance that has marked out Boyd as an artist. If he makes room for more of that in the studio, we would have a mighty record.