Dark Matter sounds like a musical amalgamation of many of the trends bristling up in London at the moment.
After years of collaboration with artists like Binker Golding, Theon Cross, Zara McFarlane, and numerous others, 28-year old drummer, composer and producer Moses Boyd is finally, officially stepping out under his own name for his debut solo album, Dark Matter. With such a history of variable musical output, the challenge Boyd faced in making Dark Matter was clearly establishing his voice and striking a balance between, and showcasing, his long list of talents without falling into the trap of making an album that sounds incoherent, disjointed or busy. Luckily, Dark Matter ultimately succeeds in combining the contemporary and electronic while remaining deeply indebted to a background in jazz.
Listeners are given just a few moments to prepare themselves before the horns erupt from a hazy ambiance and propel the opener, “Stranger Than Fiction,” into a hard-bouncing club track—a representative opening, and a worthy thesis statement for Boyd’s musical intention on Dark Matter. “BTB” and “Y.O.Y.O” are the two most traditional jazz pieces on Dark Matter. Both are upbeat, lively tracks that are immensely groove-heavy. The former has a jumpy, afrobeat core, being driven along by tuba and Boyd’s drums. The latter leans into more typical jazz-fusion, including a winding guitar solo and focusing more on Latin-influenced percussion patterns. Then, directly contrasting the more standard jazz efforts before it, “Shades of You (ft. Poppy Ajudha)” completely turns away from the jazz influence and dives fully into dance music—the hypnotic repetition of the beat and vocal performance is entrancing.
The weakest point on the album comes about two thirds through. “Dancing In The Dark” is a spacey, dark and gritty beat and guest vocalist Obongjayar performs well, but there is too little variation or growth in the structure of the song and it eventually feels like it overstays its intrigue. What immediately follows, “Only You,” is the other most electronic-influenced piece on the album, and while an effort is made capture both Boyd’s work as a drummer and a beat-maker on one track, the result is a little overcrowded with samples, washy hi-hats, muddy bass and all other instrumentation fighting for immediate clarity.
Thankfully the album bounces back fairly quickly after those two songs. “2 Far Gone” featuring piano from Boyd’s also multi-talented peer and founding member of Ezra Collective, Joe-Armon Jones, is perhaps the composition that best brings together the warm timbre of classic jazz and the synthetic-chill of house beats—each component of the song clearly stands on its own as well as compliments the whole. Nonku Phiri and Nubya Garcia show up on the perfectly pleasant second-to-last song, “Nommos Descent” which leads into the album’s longest, most atmospheric song, “What Now?” A floating, ethereal pace allows time for a lengthy, captivating flute solo and multiple sections of droning ambiance, closing Dark Matter with the contemplative tone the song’s interrogative title would seem to imply.
For those familiar with the collection of jazz musicians recently making waves out of the UK, the aesthetics and tone of Dark Matter may not come as much of a surprise and are not going to reshape how you conceptualize jazz music, but Boyd’s talent as a musician, composer and leader on display is undeniable. Dark Matter sounds like a musical amalgamation of many of the trends bristling up in London at the moment, playing with jazz, electronic-dance and trap music—a jazz-fusion album that feels exciting and new but doesn’t feel beholden to trends. Boyd has been a major player in that intensely vibrant London-jazz scene for quite a while now, so it is not all that much of a surprise that he was able to make Dark Matter feel like such a mature, confident and well-constructed album despite its technical classification as a debut.