The jazz trumpeter Theo Croker is the grandson of the late and legendary trumpeter Doc Cheatham. Croker is like him in a few ways. He has a soft tone and his phrasing is smooth like soymilk. Listening to Croker's new album "AfroPhysicist" it's clear he isn't the least bit interested in emulating his granddad, or putting out the kind of jazz he was into.
Cheatham was a red-blooded American jazz man and a saintly swinger. Every band he played in was blessed to have him. Croker is steep in the traditional inner workings of jazz. He can swing up a storm listen to “The Fundamentals” and he can play angelically as he shows on “Visions” and on “Bo Masekela”.
This album suggests he's on a jazz fusion kick like a growing number of his peers pianist Robert Glasper, vocalist Gretchen Parlato, and trumpeter Christian Scott, which is OK because Croker does the jazz fusion thing exceedingly well. It wouldn't be wrong to regard "AfroPhysicist" as his breakthrough album, or better yet his mission statement to the jazz world.
"AfroPhysicist is Croker's third album. It has all the markings of a serious jazz musician out to make a name. His kind of jazz fusion is like the listenable fusion Christian Scott has been making.
The album opens with a nod to Cheatham titled “Alapa”. Croker sounds as if he tries to get in touch with his granddad's spirit. The next cuts “Realize” is a jazz fusion explosion, followed by the mid-ranged goodies “It’s Not You. It’s Me (But You Didn’t Help}” and “Light Skinned Beauty”.
"AfroPhysicist" is on vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater’s label DDB Records. She pitched in big as producer, and she sings wonderfully on two cuts “Save Your Love for Me” and “Moody’s Mood for Love”. Her help doesn't make the album, but having her on it doesn't hurt. Croker isn't a household name yet like trumpeters Sean Jones and Terell Stafford are. However, this album is a major step toward the big leagues.