Expertly combining the benefits of a comprehensive musical education with his reactionary love of laptop-based music, TM Juke (aka Alex Cowan) has quickly established himself as a prodigious songwriter and arranger, a broadminded and captivating DJ and an exceptionally talented producer.
As a child, the infant Juke was schooled in both classical and jazz guitar theory before he began tinkering with samplers – a rebellious act calculated to annoy his father, who had forced him to attend formal music lessons from the tender age of seven. This formal education has left an indelible mark on much of his subsequent work. Seamlessly blending the dexterity and verbosity of traditional jazz with the cut ’n’ paste sensibilities of hip hop, TM Juke’s productions resonate with crisp beats, earthy instrumentation and spellbinding arrangements.
His debut longplayer, ‘Maps From The Wilderness’ (2003), has all the ingredients of a truly great record. Boldly setting new musical agendas whilst retaining a universal appeal, it sounds both strikingly original and strangely familiar.
In 2005, TM Juke teamed up with fellow Tru Thoughts artist and long time collaborator Alice Russell to work on her first full length offering. ‘My Favourite Letters’ was produced and co-written by Juke, who took the folkcentric, funkadelic blueprint of his debut and expanded his sonic palette to include elements of gospel, hip hop, jazz, northern soul, broken beat and electronica – distilling a veritable kaleidoscope of soul music history into one coherent, and incredibly catchy, whole. The album was incredibly well received, raising Alice’s profile and cementing TM Juke’s reputation as a producer, songwriter and arranger par excellence.
Keen to strike while the iron was hot, TM Juke set to work on his second solo album, ‘Forward’, which was released in October 2006 to great reviews. The LP features collaborations with Jim Oxborrow, Elmore Judd, Naim, Sophie Faricy, Kinny and Alice Russell. Early 2008 saw the release of the “Electric Chair” EP featuring a handful of exclusive remixes and versions of some of the tracks from ‘Forward’, and an exclusive release in the shape of the deep, bluesy “My World Is Empty Without You” featuring Alice Russell.
Beyond the confines of the studio, TM Juke has toured internationally as a DJ and with his acclaimed eight-piece live band. He continues to collaborate with Alice Russell, and in 2008 they have played the Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg Jazz Festivals. On the decks, TM Juke effortlessly flips the switch between raw backbone funk, soul 45s, left-sided Latin and state-of-the-art broken boogie, crafting sets that have moved feet, hearts and minds throughout the world. Those intent on pigeon-holing TM Juke will name-check genres like funk, soul, hip hop and jazz; but his insatiable appetite for experimentation and ear for a great hook ensures that the music will always resist easy categorisation.
The latest endeavour for TM Juke is a collaboration with percussionist Jack Baker, who has for the last few years been a regular feature in the TM Juke live band, and also plays with the Bonobo band. Under the name TM Juke And The Jack Baker Trio, their album “Boto And The Second Liners”: http://www.tru-thoughts.co.uk/releases/Tm-Juke-and-The-Jack-Baker-Trio/TRU174 (out on 9th September 2008) represents TM Juke and Jack Baker’s last five years on the road together. Having frequented many a club around the world and seen some of the best bands in action, along with their own experience as international DJs and musicians, they know what works on a dancefloor. Embracing Junkyard grooves from New York; soul music from Memphis; blending swing music from New Orleans then mixing it with Brazilian samba to unleash a feast of carnival spirited songs; this album is pure party music, high energy, and not a ballad in sight. The pair employed the talents of some great players on the record, most notably singers Alice Russell, Kathrin deBoer of Belleruche and Andreya Triana, and Spanish singer Gecko Turner. TM Juke And The Jack Baker Trio played the Big Chill festival 2008, and a UK and European tour followed.
Since then, TM Juke has been touring the world with Alice Russell, promoting her latest album, ‘Pot Of Gold’, which he produced, and working on various projects to be unveiled in the near future…
Photography by Ali Tollervey