Since 2014's Afrophysicist, trumpeter Theo Croker has been expanding upon his funky, stylistically far-reaching jazz sound with ever more electric and electronic influences. He takes this approach even further on 2019's cosmically expansive Star People Nation. The album follows his equally ambitious 2016 effort Escape Velocity and once again finds him backed by his ensemble featuring saxophonist Irwin Hall, keyboardist Michael King, bassist Eric Wheeler, and drummer Kassa Overall. Also joining him again is co-executive producer Karriem Riggins, who previously played drums on Afrophysicist and has worked with such luminaries as J Dilla, Esperanza Spalding, Common, and others. Star People Nation is a stylistically balanced album, deftly counterpoised between spacy '70s world fusion, modal jazz, alternative R&B, and forward-thinking hip-hop. It brings to mind classic works by Eddie Henderson, George Duke, and Donald Byrd, the latter of whom Croker was mentored by while a student at Oberlin College. The opening "Have You Come to Stay" is a slowly rolling electro-space-mantra that emerges like an interstellar transmission from a hazy sparkle of keyboards before giving way to a cascade of overdubbed horn lines and two transcendent solos from Croker and Hall. Similarly spacy, "Subconscious Flirtations & Titillations" finds Croker evoking a dreamy, Miles Davis-esque futurism as he contrasts his warm, breathy horn against bug-like digital motifs, sparkling piano, and an analog bass'n'drum rhythm. "Wide Open" also has a Miles-ian quality, as Croker swims through dizzying underwater trap beats and aquamarine synths as he blows long bubble lines with his muted, EFX-laden trumpet. Elsewhere, he brings on board several guests including vocalist Rose Gold on the sensual "Getaway Gold," pianist ELEW on the minor-key "The Messenger," and Jamaican singer Chronixx, who helps elevate the atmosphere even higher on the socially conscious "Understand Yourself," as Croker mixes tropical club-jazz with African percussion and deep tropical vibes.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar