If ever there was an album exploring our societal dichotomy for 2020, it’s ‘Breathe Deep’ – even the title sounds like advice ahead of meditation for anxiety. Ridiculously gifted Kokoroko guitarist Oscar Jerome’s debut solo album may feel like the sun rising, then, but there’s a political fury underpinning even its most easy-breezy songs.
The Norwich born guitarist and singer songwriter, now based in South London, makes music for the head as much as for moving hips. ‘Sun For Someone’, for example, moves with the breeziness of Roy Ayers or Bill Withers, but seethes,”Melancholy evidence happily berate their ignorance/The earth will sigh as it watches us die/Along with our belligerence”.
So, too, with the instrumental track ‘Fkn Happy Days’ a moody piece inspired by late sixties Latin jazz. And the choppy funk of ‘Give Back What U Stole’ berates bankers. Jerome is equally effective when paring things back though. His duet with Lianne La Havas ‘Timeless’ is just that, with a simple elegance to his liquid guitar playing. Their voices mesh beautifully together.
‘Your Saint’ though seems like the highlight: it’s spiritual jazz that’s a prayer for the homeless and the displaced, but also steeped in a wary kind of hope for the future. Choral backing vocals join Jerome’s in spiralling layers, and Kokoroko’s Sheila Maurice Grey and Richie Seivewright are on trumpet and trombone respectively.
Cautious optimism with a world-weary twist? That sounds about right just now. Jerome has effortlessly captured the Zeitgeist and on the strength of this, can go anywhere.