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Nubya Garcia takes off

Nubya Garcia

I was planning to write about Nubya Garcia anyway, but today seems particularly appropriate, this being the centenary of the bill that gave women the right to vote in Britain. In 2018, one in three MPs in the House of Commons is now a woman, and I’d say that we’re getting close to that kind of gender split at the creative end of jazz. Garcia, a young tenor saxophonist and composer who came through Tomorrow’s Warriors and the Royal Academy of Music’s junior programme, is an example of a trend also exemplified by the likes of Matana Roberts, Eve Risser, Linda Oh, Kaja Draksler, Sarah Tandy, Mary Halvorson, Anna Lena Schnabel, Susana Santos Silva, Alice Zawadzki, Jaimie Branch, Ingrid Laubrock, Lucia Cadotsch, Tomeka Reid, Shirley Tetteh, Sylvie Courvoisier, Lucy Railton and many, many others.

I’m at the point now that when I go to see a band made up entirely of male musicians, it feels like there’s something wrong, something out of balance, something old-fashioned going on. And there certainly aren’t many bands that wouldn’t be improved by Garcia’s presence.

Nubya’s 5ive is her first album, and it’s a scorching debut. She’s riding the wave of a new interest in young British jazz musicians, exposed in a recent feature by Giovanni Russonello in the New York Times, and her disc is useful evidence — along with two of last year’s best albums, Shabaka and the Ancestors’ Wisdom of Elders and Binker & Moses’ Journey to the Mountain of Forever — that this is no hype. Here we have a version of smart modern jazz that knows what’s going on around it but also knows better than to deal in fashionable tricks and artificial grafts.

One thing I like about Garcia is that she doesn’t sound like Coltrane or Shorter. She has a commanding tone, pliable, fibrous and full of power, and she digs hard into the grooves established here by her excellent band on tunes that are strong and memorable. Each of the individuals takes an opportunity to stand out: Daniel Casimir with a compelling solo introduction to “Lost Kingdoms”, Joe Armon Jones with a boiling acoustic piano solo on “Contemplation”, the hugely promising Theon Cross with a tuba improvisation on “Hold”, Sheila Maurice Gray with a bold trumpet solo on “Red Sun”, and Moses Boyd with a display of thrillingly flexible drumming all the way through (joined on a couple of tracks by Femi Koloeso).

This is a snapshot of a scene that is currently humming with excitement, giving London a kind of vibe it hasn’t had since the Jazz Warriors and Loose Tubes broke through in the mid-’80s. Most important of all, it seems to be finding a new audience, attracted by its energy and its inclusiveness. Not all of it is going to be ground-breaking, but it’s here and now and it needs to be noticed.

* Nubya’s 5ive is released on the Jazz:Refreshed label.

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Michael in UK #

    Timely post indeed. I recently enjoyed a gig by another young female saxophonist and composer, Trish Clowes and her band.

    February 6, 2018
  2. saverio pechini #

    No , not Coltrane and Shorter . What about early Chico Freeman ?

    February 6, 2018
  3. Philip Putnam #

    Richard, there are some fantastic ladies playing, and leading bands (of blokes) in Australia. You must get down here, sometime. We even have a Women’s jazz festival at the end of the year.
    Love it.

    February 6, 2018
  4. GuitarSlinger #

    Links to both the NYTimes article as well as her music would of been a better introduction to this young woman and her music … rather than making us ( including us on the wrong side of the pond .. e.g. US ) search for them

    February 7, 2018
  5. “Searching” — just a bore, isn’t it? And why not try a please or a thank-you now and then?

    February 7, 2018
  6. GRAHAM ROBERTS #

    Really looking forward to hearing Nubya’s album – I saw her at the Pizza Express a few months ago with the tremendous all-female band Nerija – also featuring Shirley Teteh – and the EP that was on sale after the gig is well worth seeking out if it’s still available.

    February 8, 2018
  7. Mike Gavin #

    The key to the longer term success of this generation of players is whether they can hack it in the big European markets…Also, it’s very London-centric isn’t it? Kokoroko are worth keeping an eye on too.

    February 8, 2018
    • Quite honestly, Mike, I can’t remember a time when the UK jazz scene wasn’t London-centric, from the Jazz Couriers and the Harriott Quintet through Westbrook and Collier and Loose Tubes and the Jazz Warriors to now. The likes of the Emcee Five Back Door and Soweto Kinch have always been the exceptions. I’d be interested to hear what you mean by “hack it in the big European markets”.

      February 8, 2018
  8. Mike Gavin #

    I agree re London – and that’s a problem now I think – especially with Art’s Council funding going to Jazz Refreshed and Brownswood… re: Europe, I suppose I mean that so many of the ‘jazz’ movements in the uk in the last 30 odd years have failed to capture the imagination of the European market – it’s only the more intellectual players (Django etc) from the 80s generation who appear to be big names on the continent. The cultural connection with the States seems so much stronger than with European styles (and yet these have been commercially more fruitful)So it seems to me, anyway… Theon Cross is terrific, isn’t he – like the EP (which is Nubya’s qt) https://theoncross.bandcamp.com/releases

    February 8, 2018
  9. Mike Gavin #

    And thank you!

    February 8, 2018
  10. hamertheframer #

    It’s a great album – http://blog.rowleygallery.co.uk/hold/

    February 10, 2018

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