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Nérija at the Albert Hall

Nérija 1

So maybe this London jazz boom is for real, after all. There was another piece about it in the New York Times last week, in which Giovanni Russonello extolled the Sons of Kemet’s new album while correctly praising the vibrancy of the scene that incubated Shabaka Hutchings and his colleagues. Last night I heard a bit more evidence in the intimate surroundings of the Albert Hall’s Elgar Room, where the septet called Nérija pulled a big and enthusiastic crowd.

Nérija are Sheila Maurice-Grey (trumpet), Rosie Turton (trombone), Cassie Kinoshi (alto saxophone), Nubya Garcia (tenor saxophone), Shirley Tetteh (guitar), Rio Kai (double bass) and Lizy Exell (drums). Several of them are graduates of the invaluable Tomorrow’s Warriors programme run for young musicians by Gary Crosby and Janine Irons. Last year they released an EP — you can listen to and download it here — which showed off qualities that were illustrated in greater depth during two half-hour sets packed with substantial original compositions, some of them written collectively and each showing a different facet of their character.

Their grooves are made for dancing, their tunes and solos for listening. The four-horn front line makes a pleasingly warm, fat sound, but is used with flexibility, sometimes dividing up within the written sections: trumpet and trombone together, or alto and tenor, or other combinations, thus keeping the textures fresh and the densities surprising. The solos are strategically placed within each composition so that the listener never gets the feeling of hearing a routine in progress. Often a piece has an unexpected ending: an epigrammatic tag, a rhythm section coda, a sudden diminuendo.

As soloists, the horn players are still developing but already show self-confidence and imagination. The formidable Garcia is currently the best known of them, but Maurice-Grey and Turton played several solos that would be outstanding in any context, while Kinoshi — whose playing has a bit of the Blue Notes’ Dudu Pukwana and the Skatalites’ Lester Sterling in it — preached with particular fervour on a composition of her own.

I love how they mix West and South African and Jamaican influences with hard bop and modal jazz, hip-hop, and no doubt other ingredients. The place where they all meet — the prism through which everything passes — seems to be the guitar of Tetteh, who powers the grooves with a fast, staccato chordal approach closer to funk than jazz, as well driving Kai and Exell to spirited climaxes behind the soloists. Her own improvisations are episodic but often contain startling juxtapositions of chordal passages with rippling single-note figures. I hear echoes of all sorts of things metabolised in her playing: Ernest Ranglin, Gabor Szabo, Michael Hampton, Grant Green, and the guys who played guitar with King Sunny Adé. I think she’s finding her way towards something special.

Although Nérija’s approach has been carefully planned, the music never feels tricksy. There are music stands on stage, but they don’t get in the way of spontaneity and a compelling immediacy. There are rough edges, but in a Mingus-y sort of way, which can only be good. You feel that if they were ever completely smoothed away, the fun would stop. Which hardly seems imminent.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. GRAHAM ROBERTS #

    Thursday’s gig at the Elgar Room was a treat – what a superb band Nerija are. I agree with you entirely about Shirley Teteh’s guitar work; I have followed her development for a while now since I first saw her play a few years ago at the South Bank in a large(ish) band that Gary Crosby put together for a splendid Motown-related concert, and she goes from strength to strength.

    Nerija are playing at the Pizza Express in May – can’t wait.

    April 3, 2018
  2. Alan Hayward #

    This is really beginning to annoy me. Jazz Refreshed must be giving a large part of their Arts Council grant to their press agent. There has been more press coverage of Nubya Garcia than the rest of UK Jazz ever. Journalists are doing her and others a disservice. Most of these musicians at best show potential, they are not the finished article and are not doing anything new or in some cases well.

    If people want to hype the UK jazz scene, write about Liam Noble, Jason Yarde, Mark Lockheart , Tori Freestone or any of numerous others who play with more soul proficiency and depth than any of the Jazz Refeshef crowd with the exception of some of Shabaka’s work.

    Usually Blue Moment provides some sort of perspective . Everything I have read in Guardian, Observer, Downbeat, The Wire and on line is just hype! Suggest people start listening with their ears rather than trying to recreate , in Giles Peterson’s case, the 80’s jazz dance scene. Great musicians are not made by the number of column inches they get and most of these young musicians need time and experience , not hype.

    April 3, 2018
    • Alan —
      It makes me sad to read your comments. I bought my tickets for Nérija after reading about the gig in the listings of London Jazz News, so I can hardly be accused of succumbing to PR hype. I first saw Shirley Tetteh with Jazz Jamaica and was impressed. Ditto Nubya Garcia with Orphy Robinson’s Bobby Hutcherson project before anybody had mentioned her.
      In my view, your criticisms are short-sighted and small-minded. These young musicians are indeed at an early stage of their careers but they already have something to offer beyond enthusiasm. Whether that’s going to amount to a truly original contribution to the evolution of jazz, who can say? But they play with skill, inventiveness and warmth. I was knocked out by the arc of Nérija’s set, which travelled through a great variety of musical scenery while absorbing it all into a collective character.
      (As it happens, among the current things I don’t like very much or even at all include Snarky Puppy, Kamasi Washington and GoGo Penguin, so I’m not a neophiliac hooked on the latest fad.)
      I know virtually nothing about the activities of Gilles Peterson or Jazz:Refreshed. I’m not beholden to them or to anybody or to any doctrine or dogma. Of course I love the playing of the older musicians you mention. But your complaint is reminiscent of the sort that have filled the letters page of Jazz Journal since I first read it more than 50 years ago. I must repeat: short-sighted and small-minded.
      Best
      Richard

      April 3, 2018
    • Much of Birth of the Cool was recorded while MIles Davis was in his early twenties. Dave Brubeck formed his quartet at age 21.

      Yes, they both went on to also create other important work as they aged … but their youth probably shouldn’t be held against them. Nor should it be held against other young jazz musicians.

      April 9, 2018
  3. Ayshah #

    Wow Alan! Your ranting totally demonstrates bitterness, jealousy, narrow-mindedness and incredible ignorance. Richard never referred to Jazz Refreshed and only mentioned Nubya Garcia once in context. Like Shabaka (who you mentioned) Garcia is active with three plus separate projects each with a different sound. Most of the others in this band are also bandleaders with their own projects. The Nérija musicians have not only passed through Tomorrows Warriors but Garcia, Maurice-Grey, Turton, Kinoshi and the drummer Lizy Ecell are graduates of Trinity Laban Conservatoire Jazz Performance course. They are skilled musicians and composers.

    So Jazz Refreshed has Finally received some money from the Arts Council. Why denigrate them? Years struggling to support musicians on literally no money just enthusiasm, they paid their dues and paid the musicians. It didn’t happen overnight, support them don’t pull them down. There is room for all musicians including those you mention, absolutely no need to negate one, to promote another. Fortunately, this cohort is an incredibly tight community and supports each other.

    Jazz musicians struggle enough without you throwing shade and shit trying to create a divide between them. If you don’t like it, shut up and sit down.

    April 4, 2018
    • Orv #

      Saw Nerija tonight at Pizza Express and was knocked out by the sheer joy and high class musicianship showed. It was a thrilling night and a great advertisement for the future of British Jazz. Many thanks Richard for highlighting this group who I would never have heard but for your glowing concert review.

      May 11, 2018

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