Afro Physicist (Okeh)

Theo Croker

Released April 21, 2014

AllMusic Favorite Jazz Albums 2014




Trumpeter Theo Croker comes by his instrument naturally, being a grandson of the legendary Doc Cheatham. Croker’s third album opens with a solo tribute to Cheatham and then moves into electric groove jazz and rock, with a horn section filling out the background. While the band assembled here play with a mix of muscle and funk, there are also some noteworthy guests. Album producer Dee Dee Bridgewater sings on Buddy Johnson’s “Save Your Love for Me,” a Latin version of the Michael Jackson tune “I Can’t Help It,” and a straight-ahead but brief run-through of “Moody’s Mood for Love.” Elsewhere, vibraphonist Stefon Harris joins in on the simmering “Visions,” and Roy Hargrove sings his composition “Roy Allan,” with a smooth R&B vibe created by Croker’s arrangement.  Croker stands out on the hard-hitting funk original “Realize” and the Afro-funk of “It’s Not You It’s Me (But You Didn’t Help),” with him sounding great on mute. Wholly modern but grounded in tradition, this would make granddad proud.

Track Listing:

1. Alapa [For Doc] (Theo Croker) 02:00

2. Realize (Theo Croker) 05:37

3. It’s Not You, It’s Me (But You Didn’t Help) (Theo Croker) 06:14

4. Light Skinned Beauty (Theo Croker) 03:23

5. Wanting Your Love (Theo Croker) 04:43

6. Save Your Love for Me (Buddy Johnson) 05:31

7. Visions (Stevie Wonder) 06:37

8. The Fundamentals (Theo Croker) 04:34

9. Roy Allan (Roy Hargrove) 04:53

10. Moody’s Mood for Love (Dorothy Fields / Jimmy McHugh / James Moody) 03:23

11. I Can’t Help It (Gina Foster / Ramel Govantes / Susaye Greene / Geoff Gurd / Martin Lascelles / Kevin Plasket / Stevie Wonder) 05:30

12. Bo Masekela (Caiphus Semenya) 03:07


Theo Croker: trumpet

Sullivan Fortner: Hammond B3 Organ, Fender Rhodes

Karriem Riggins: drums

Michael Bowie: electric bass, acoustic bass

David Gilmore: electric guitar

Luisito Quintero: percussion

Irwin Hall: alto saxophone, alto flute

Andrae Murchison: trombone

Jumaane Smith: lead trumpet

Stacy Dillard: tenor saxophone

Jason Marshall: baritone saxophone

Dee Dee Bridgewater: vocals (6, 10, 11)

China Moses: background vocals

Stefon Harris: vibraphone (7)

Roy Hargrove: vocals (9)

Recorded April 22 – 24, 2011, at Avatar Studios, New York, NY

Producer: Dee Dee Bridgewater

Engineer: Anthony Ruotolo

Mixed by Jean-Marie Horvat

Mastering: Doug Sax

Mastering Assistant: Jett Galindo

Photography by Thomas Brodin

Artwork: Jean-Luc Barilla

Executive-Producer: Tulani Bridgewater


Theo Croker’s third full-length album, the Dee Dee Bridgewater-produced Afro Physicist, is an ambitious, stylistically wide-ranging album that showcases the jazz trumpeter’s soulful post-bop chops, sophisticated arranging skills, and adventurous compositional style. The grandson of the late jazz trumpeter Doc Cheatham and a graduate of Oberlin College, Croker is an accomplished musician with a deep musical reservoir to draw from. Working closely with Bridgewater, with whom he has been performing regularly since 2009, Croker delves into a sound heavily informed by ’70s soul-jazz, but which touches upon groove-oriented Latin jazz (“It’s Not You, It’s Me [But You Didn’t Help]”), gargantuan keyboard and electric guitar-heavy jazz-funk (“Realize”), and atmospheric, dream-inducing modal jazz (“Visions,” with vibraphonist Stefon Harris). There’s also a subtle hip-hop and contemporary R&B influence running throughout most of Afro Physicist, primarily evident in the propulsive funky rhythms of drummer Karriem Riggins. Even on the frenetic, Ornette Coleman-esque “The Fundamentals,” Croker finds common ground between late-’60s free bop and modern breakbeat dance music. Elsewhere, Croker showcases Bridgewater (a vocal dynamo and journeyman bandleader with a charismatic stage swagger equivalent to Art Blakey’s drumming) on several numbers, including a midtempo ’70s funk reworking of “Save Your Love for Me” and a Brazilian Carnival-ready take on the Michael Jackson classic “I Can’t Help It.” Blessed with a fluid, harmonically supple trumpet technique, Croker could easily monopolize the album. However, as evidenced by his collaborations with Bridgewater, Croker is a confident and sympathetic accompanist with an ear for crafting a balanced, powerful group aesthetic. He’s so confident, he even brings on firebrand trumpeter/singer Roy Hargrove (clearly a huge influence on him) for the propulsive, Hargrove-penned contemporary bossa nova fusion number “Roy Allan.” It’s a bold, open-hearted statement that speaks to Croker’s grounded sense of himself, a sense that permeates all of Afro Physicist. Ultimately, however, the palpable synergy and exuberant creative juice flowing between Croker and Bridgewater here are what make Afro Physicist a truly alchemic experience.

Matt Collar (AllMusic)