Album Review: Intra-I – Theon Cross

It was the day after Thanksgiving here in the States. November 26th. My oldest daughter’s 25th birthday – a year older than I was when she was born. That was weighing me down. A ton of shit was weighing me down. It’s not a new story, but one I think we should tell more often. Because it’s okay if you’re just not feeling it. You do what you need to do in order to make it to the next day. So, I decided to drive to Cleveland to see a Metal show. My wife thought I was crazy, but sometimes the best medicine for a dude like me is a Metal show. I had to admit, my wife had a point. She usually does, God bless her, but I went anyway. 

With all of these things weighing me down, while on a two hour solo road trip, I had a bit of trouble finding the right soundtrack for the drive. Not much else to do on a trip like that but think outside the box a bit, and then it hit me:

We don’t just need heavy sounding albums. We need albums that help us through heavy shit. 

I then remembered an album I requested from a UK-based Jazz label called New Soil. “Intra-I,” by an up-and-coming tuba player/composer named Theon Cross. There were only a few preview tracks available at the time, but I wrote to Fred over at New Soil and he sent over a streaming link that just blew my mind. I questioned whether covering a Jazz record in a Metal publication was a good move, and Fred told me At the risk of sounding flippant, the tuba is an actual piece of heavy metal!” Fuckin-A, Fred! 

The album begins with a droning, looping tuba – accompanied by a beautiful poem by London based performing artist, Remi Graves.

The World is in a spin

The world off its axis

It spins and spins, 

With us within it.

We move with a shift

Fight that daily dizziness

Just by getting up

“Wow,” I thought, “I feel that! The world – my world – slightly off its axis, spinning in directions I can’t keep track of, and we fight off the dizziness just by getting up each day. We do this because…

Each of us a vertical being of light

Refusing to be flattened

By the pace of things

Or what’s been done to us

Or what we’ve done to others.

Less than one minute in, and I remembered why “Intra-I” made such an impression to begin with. I happily listened to the rest of the album, paying particular attention to a song called “Trust The Journey.” 

That still doesn’t quite explain what a Jazz album is doing in The Metal Wanderlust. Well, the following is a direct quote from my notebook:

“I’m sitting here at said Metal show, drinking a non-alcoholic beer, and writing about Theon Cross. Don’t believe me?

It wasn’t that any of the bands were terrible. I had seen two prior to breaking out the notebook, but neither were worth mentioning here, and both were far less exciting than Theon Cross. And, while some kids are suckers for a series of brilliant, yet entirely pointless guitar solos, I’d still rather spend the time I’ve got left on this planet focusing on music with substance and purpose. So, I just kept writing. 

You’d be surprised how many people come up to you if they’ve seen you sitting at the bar for a while writing in a notebook. I met a guy named Nick who asked if I was writing for the paper. I laughed and said “No. Just write for myself.” He asked me if it was just my thoughts I was writing down, and I lied and said yes. Well that wasn’t totally a lie. Nick told me he thought it was awesome that I drove here from Toledo… sitting down at the bar writing my thoughts down. He said “You found a way to get it all out, man. That’s fucking awesome.”

Nick also said that I looked like I had been through some shit, and that I appeared to be a person that was non judgemental. He said he didn’t know what to do with all the thoughts in his head. I suggested he drive somewhere to get a beer and write them down. He told me he lost his friend to suicide a few months ago. That tonight would’ve been his 25th birthday. He just stared off into the distance for a few seconds, said “Twenty-five” in a hush, and then thanked me for listening. I guess that was Nick‘s way of asking if I’d write that down for him. Nick and his buddy always listened to Crowbar together. 

We speak to those yet to come

Our long-gone’s and our day-one’s

Feel spirits in the space between

Calling us to remember our strength 

Keeping our backs unbent and poised

For whatever’s next. 

— Remi Graves

I had gone to that club to see some local Metal bands, hoping that one of them would kick so much ass I’d have no choice but to write about. That was the plan. Support local talent. Support the underground. Instead, I decided to trust the journey… and ended up writing about Jazz and listening to a man, clearly in pain, let some of that weight off of his shoulders. Nick’s lost friend, forever twenty four, will be remembered tonight… by anyone who reads these words.

I left shortly after that conversation. My world had been off its axis. I was feeling dizzy, and still walking funny from a wobbly couple of weeks. It might have been crazy to drive two hours to get to a shitty show, but I’m glad I went. And as I walked back to my car, happy to be alive, I gladly listened to “Intra-I” again on the way home. 

The following quote from the press release should answer a few more questions:

Theon Cross’ new album, Intra-I, finds the gifted tuba player and composer creating a sound system powered by breath.  

This unique record is an uplifting celebration of Black music that, thanks to Cross’ pioneering approach, helps to redefine the sonic possibilities of the tuba.  Reflecting his own heritage, the young virtuoso melds jazz with dub, hip-hop, soca, grime and other sounds connected to the Afro-Caribbean diaspora.

I’d like to personally thank Theon Cross for this wonderful album, and encourage you all to take a listen. It all begins with a two minute poetic introduction featuring Remi Graves. I suggest you start there, and see where the music takes you. 

Rating: 4/5

https://theoncross.bandcamp.com/album/intra-i-2

https://newsoil.bandcamp.com/music

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