The spacey guitars and spatial drums of Oscar Jerome have truly grown in the London music scene, becoming an ever present part of its endemic environment. Hailing from Norwich and studying Jazz at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire, Jerome has been playing in bands since he was 14 and has now released three full length albums alongside two EPs and numerous singles.
All are filled with a clever mix of west-african inspired rhythms, echoey guitars that sparkle across your ears and poignant vocals. The result is a captivating listening experience which you can easily lose yourself in.
As part of the London scene he is surrounded by the likes of Ezra Collective, Sons of Kemet and he also has been playing in KOKOROKO; his guitar ringing out on their hit Abusey Junction. His guitar playing has even earned him a spot playing with the likes of Kamasi Washington on his UK tour.
Oscar Jerome’s appreciation for a vast array of styles can clearly be heard in his music. Jerome cites the guitar virtuosity of Wes Montgomery and George Benson and the melancholic beauty of John Martyn as heavy influences on his composition and his own style of playing. In his lyrics, there are nuances of the happy-yet-melancholic storytelling of Gil Scott-Heron as well as the sadness of John Martyn. Yet despite this palette of melancholy his messages are often ones that Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against The Machine would be proud of. The lyrics of Where Are Your Branches and Give Back What U Stole From Me outline his thoughts on the inequality and late-stage capitalist society that is taking root in Britain more firmly than ever before.
Yet unlike contemporaries such as Ezra Collective or the bombastic brass of Sons of Kemet and The Comet Is Coming, the anti-establishmentarianism of his messages often takes some time to be heard amongst the kaleidoscope of rhythm and colour prevalent in his music. One could be forgiven for thinking that his only pursuit in his musical journey is one of creating soundscapes to become lost in, however his ideas are deeply rooted in his music and are there for all to hear. The repeated refrain “We should stand up and say no” in Give Back What U Stole From Me is reminiscent of De La Roche’s anger-fueled “F*ck you I won’t do what you tell me” , but Jerome’s lyrics manage to come across as rhythmic and melodic in place of De La Roche’s spitting anger and yet carry some of the same weight. One exception is 2022’s cover of Grant Green’s jazz classic (Why You So) Green With Envy. Produced with Rapper Oscar #Worldpeace, the mosquito-like guitar of Jerome and heavy stepper kick drum bring an entirely new approach to Green’s song and it is a disturbing yet melodic re-imagining, perfect for framing the message it conveys.
Maybe this is why Oscar Jerome believes that his live shows are where his true form lies. After the first two EPs Jerome decided to release Live in Amsterdam as his first full album. “I started to realise that the versions we play live can be very different” he says in an interview with guitar.com, with the energy of the crowd fueling the improvisation and inspiring changes in the moment. “I felt it was important for people to hear this on record before we put out another studio project”, he says.
Despite these feelings and the energy of his live shows, the sounds laid down in his recordings still manage to capture something inherently his. Whether captured in a studio or from a microphone in shoe, like his single Gravitate – a collaboration with friend and Ezra Collective’s own Joe Armon-Jones – Oscar Jerome manages to create music that always gets your toes tapping and your head bopping while spinning your head. No doubt his time creating music within the Afrocentrism of London’s current music scene, including his time playing with KOKOROKO, has added to his understanding and use of west-African-style rhythms. He himself says that “focusing on drums as a way to give the song its initial identity” is a key part of his song-writing and he does this spectacularly, making him stand out from other artists in similar veins such as fellow Trinity Laban alumni Tom Misch.
Adding to the hypnotizing rhythms of Oscar Jerome’s music are layers of instrumentation. On 2018’s Where Your Branches (Where Is Your Fruit) the echoing twangs of the guitar add to the sense of space within the song while the bird-like percussive hits transport you into that space; into the forest, looking up at those branches, searching for that fruit.
His ability to be inspired by different genres and places keeps his releases refreshing while retaining his own sound. Given his extensive touring I am excited to see what he brings about in the future, with his own releases as well as his involvement in the projects of others.