Escape Velocity Theo Croker
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- 1Raise Your Vibrations02:04
- 3This Could Be (For The Travelling Soul)04:46
- 4In Orbit03:30
- 5No Escape from Bliss03:53
- 6The Right Time02:51
- 7A Call to the Ancestors02:01
- 9We Can't Breathe05:01
- 10It's Gonna be Alright03:24
- 11Because of You04:54
- 12Real Episode02:32
- 13Love from the Sun04:28
- 15RaHspect (Amen)02:08
Info for Escape Velocity
Bold Young Trumpeter Showcases Genre-Bending Compositions Amid Exploration of Spiritual Self”
Trumpet player Theo Croker’s new album, Escape Velocity, arrives unchecked and un-filtered. It doesn’t attempt to fit a single specific musical category, but draws upon the first principle of jazz: to merge and interpret history, styles and ideas and create a unique sound. Escape Velocity (DDB Records/OKeh), due May 6th, and featuring his band DVRK FUNK, is Croker’s second album since returning from China where he lived and worked for nearly a decade.
DVRK FUNK includes Anthony Ware on tenor saxophone and flute, pianist Michael King, guitarist Ben Eunson, bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Kassa Overall. Of the group’s name Croker explains: “Darkness has been labeled as a negative thing but the outer reaches of space are dark. Where life starts is dark. Dark is an endless possibility, infinite and unknown. That’s what we’re about.”
It is clear from the opening notes of songs like “Raise Your Vibrations” that this is Croker’s world. The glistening glow of keyboards and cymbals float around him as he establishes the band’s intentions from mission control. “It’s a summons for the listeners to open up their minds and to let them vibrate for the rest of the album.”
Songs on the album range from spiritual to upbeat, and are sometimes invested with a commitment to with current events. For example: “We Can’t Breathe,” Croker observes, “That’s about Eric Garner. That’s about Trayvon. That’s about reflecting everything that is going on in the world, but ‘It’s Gonna Be Alright’ is the response to that. No matter what we deal with, remember it’s going to be alright.” An anthem of succinct horn lines and joyous vocals, Croker’s message carries notes of both optimism and melancholy.
“A Call to the Ancestors” and “Meditations” are the results of communing with the spirits. “A lot of people assume that meditation is very calm, a quiet very clear thing,” says Croker. “But it can also have a lot of turbulence. When I get to a good point in meditation, I feel like I am traversing through dimensions.” Michael King takes advantage of his opportunity to stride across the piano, digging up a rapid sprint over the pounding percussion.
“Love From The Sun” is an homage to and a collaboration with Dee Dee Bridgewater. The renowned jazz diva, who has served as a mentor to Croker for nearly a decade, revisits a song which she first recorded in 1974. Here Croker overlays a live recording he performed with Bridgewater with a new studio performance from the inimitable vocalist.
The organ-driven pop of “Changes” is loaded with rhythmic energy and cosmic textures, a swelling culmination for a telekinetic band. Marching off in style, DVRK FUNK settles down with “RaHspect (Amen),” a tempered farewell that pairs Croker with King’s responsive piano.
“We’re always pushing our music as far as we can push it,” Croker says of the album. “We’re not changing the game, we are creating a new version of the game that hopefully is all our own.”
Theo Croker, trumpet
Irwin Hall, alto saxophone, flute, bass clarinet
Anthony Ware, baritone saxophone
Ben Eunson, guitar
Femi Temowo, guitar
Michael King, keyboards
Eric Wheeler, bass
Kassa Overall, drums
Dee Dee Bridgewater, vocals
His talent is innate; he inherited a unique gift from his grandfather, the legendary trumpet player Doc Cheatham. Theo Croker is one young musician who is not afraid of greatness, or the hard work and dedication it takes to get there.
Born and raised in Leesburg, Florida on July 18, 1985, Theo first picked up a trumpet at age eleven after a visit to New York City where he heard his grandfather play at Sweet Basil. At age 92, Doc died the following year, but Theo continued to listen to his recordings. “I would just sit in my room and play my trumpet for hours without knowing what I was doing,” Theo says. “I would slowly teach myself new notes and play along with recordings of my grandfather and other greats. I noticed that I could fit in with what I was hearing harmonically.” It was at a memorial service for his grandfather, when he had his first chance to perform for jazz-savvy audience. “I was only twelve years old, but the way the music touched people and the way it made me feel was enough to set me for life. I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
After high school, Theo had his pick of the country’s finest music schools, but the great Donald Byrd, the multi-Grammy® Award winning composer and recording artist, was like a magnet that pulled him to the Oberlin Conservatory in Oberlin, Ohio. Jazz legends like Gary Bartz, Robin Eubanks, Billy Hart, Wendell Logan, Marcus Belgrave, and Dan Wall also taught at Oberlin. “I didn’t want to study with teachers, once I knew I could study with actual players, active jazz legends. That made the call for me,” Theo says. After graduating from Oberlin in 2007, Theo began his postgraduate education, hanging out and playing with older musicians like Benny Powell, Jimmy and Tootie Heath, Billy Hart, and Marcus Belgrave. “They taught me how to live my life. Things not to do that they did, and things to do that they didn’t,” he explains.
Theo received the Presser Music Foundation Award in the spring of 2006. He used the grant money to record his first album, The Fundamentals, in New York City with The Theo Croker Sextet. The band’s members were all in their early twenties and each as impressive as the next; they define the ambitious and highly skilled lions of their generation.
The response has been incredible. Donald Byrd praises Theo’s musicianship: “There are good, great and nice musical players, but then there are phenomenal instrumentalists, such as Theo. I would place Theo in a class of musicians who will redirect the flow, change and alter the current of today’s New Jazz. Theo has the ability and the intelligence to challenge the direction of Nu Music. Theo is one of today’s titans. He is a Sankofa.” Marcus Belgrave says, “Theo Croker is one of the most promising and creative trumpeters on the horizon today and is also one of the most energetic artists I have ever encountered.”
“He has the tools, the intelligence, the ability and the talents,” praises Wynton Marsalis. “The future looks bright for Croker.”
So many of the greats have influenced him: Louis Armstrong, Doc Cheatham, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, Booker Little, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, and Marcus Belgrave, as well as contemporaries like Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton, Terrence Blanchard. Composers like John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Duke Ellington, Sonny Rollins, and too many others to name. Other strong influences come from hip hop & R&B: Stevie Wonder, Digable Planets, Outkast, Quincy Jones, Pharrell, and many, many others. Theo recently returned to the United States after a seven-year stay in Shanghai, China. The experience pushed him to broaden his idea of jazz to encompass other genres (including salsa, fusion/rock, blues, etc.), as all Shanghai musicians have to. During his time there, Theo held a five-month residency at Shanghai’s “House of Blues and Jazz,” and was soon after hired as the house band for Asia Uncut Star Network–a late night television show modeled on the Tonight Show–where Theo served as the bandleader and in-house composer until mid-2010.
It was in Shanghai where Theo met and performed for the first time with vocal icon Dee Dee Bridgewater, who performs on and produced his upcoming album, AfroPhysicist. Available May 20 on DDB Records via Sony Music Masterwork’s OKeh imprint, the album serves as the first release on Bridgewater’s label by anyone other than herself since its inception in 1996.