Nubya Garcia at the Black Box: UK Jazz Scene Reaching a truly National Audience

Nubya Garcia. Photo Source: Bandcamp Daily 

Peter Donnelly, Contributor. 

To a small but intimate crowd on Wednesday evening, 8th May, Nubya Garcia, a musician currently forming the cream of the crop of the burgeoning UK jazz-influenced scene played her slot at this year’s Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival at the Black Box in Belfast, as part of her current Europe-wide tour. For those who are familiar with the Festival, which in 2019 celebrated its twentieth year running, it will come as no surprise that it attracts a diverse range of dynamic musical clientele.

There was something deeply refreshing about London-based saxophonist, flautist and bandleader Nubya Garcia’s appearance on stage during the evening’s set; not only for her spectacularly innovative compositions and sounds, along with her on-stage charm and charisma, but the energy that accompanied her in the form of her quartet, who themselves are an integral branch of the contemporary UK jazz scene.

It was most certainly appropriate that the festival organisers accommodated this distinctive sound and scene to be showcased to a Northern Ireland audience, with jazz long having been regarded, by a mainstream audience, as an exquisite form of music only tailored for the palate of a sophisticated jazz connoisseur. It is this attitude which this generation of musicians, influenced by the spiritual origins of jazz, including Garcia are changing; allowing for her style of innovative playing to be as accessible to the dancefloor audiences as much as to those jazz acolytes.

Showcasing several of her own ingenious creations from her last 2017 debut album, ‘Nubya’s 5ive’ and her two-track EP from 2018, many of which commenced with a thin layer of percussive echoes and concluding with an energetic cacophony of bass, brass and keys. Garcia’s rendition of ‘Hold,’ from her 2017 album, allowed not only for Garcia’s dreamily polished sax playing to be insightfully experienced but also that of her backing musicians, such as Joe Armon-Jones’ prodigious key playing, every so often shifting to a moog-like Wurlitzer who himself has significantly contributed to the flourishing scene in the UK in his own right by releasing his own album last year and also providing keys to London jazz quintet, Ezra Collective. Daniel Kashmir administering the classic bass sound as well as the overpowering energy coming from Sam Jones’ drumming shone a light on Garcia’s ability to effectively manage the musicians; evidently confident from their on-stage collective chemistry that they know each other’s limits and capabilities and are there to supplement one another’s playing. The bond in the band is somewhat akin to a well-oiled machine – with all of its components knowing and performing their role to the optimal level.

An essential feature of these new-wave of jazz musicians’ is their comradery with other jazz-inspired musicians, bands and producers – being willing to help, guide and support one other along the path to creating their own masterpieces – just as the way it should be. Garcia also falls into this category with her forming, in her spare time, the saxophone component of the band Maisha and the exclusively female septet, Nérija. She also regularly accompanies, arguably the UK’s current unparalleled drumming sensation, Moses Boyd in his tours, as well as in 2018 supporting New Orleans trumpeter Christian Scott in London.

Born to Caribbean parents, Garcia’s influences clearly traverse a range of genres and sounds, with her reggae and calypso-infused track, ‘Sauce,’ palpably flying the flag for this part of her heritage. Along with her own deep knowledge of the greats from the jazz pantheon such as John Coltrane. Her own experiences with London’s vivacious club culture have furnished her with the ability to take

diverse sounds and skilfully synthesise them with the music she cherishes – an invaluable asset to her when creating such expansive music which radiates through her live performances.

The West Coast scene in the United States, characterised by a rich fusion of jazz, hip-hop and soul, has also undoubtedly had much of an influence on the wider popularity of the current jazz renaissance in the UK.

There is no doubt that the hat must be tipped to those contemporary US jazz forerunners who have been on that scene for the past number years such as dynamic artists, producers and directors including Terrace Martin and Kamasi Washington. The UK jazz scene has, however, developed its own identity and the new generation of UK musicians such as Joe Armon-Jones, Shabaka Hutchings and Tom Misch who is blending jazz along with hip-hop and soul unashamedly in to their craft.

Nubya Garcia, contributed to the compilation album, ‘We Out Here,’ capturing the forceful energy of the rapidly budding jazz scene at an early stage, along with Joe Armon-Jones and bands including Kokoroko featuring on the album – highly sought-after names on the scene. Recorded over a three-day period in a North London studio, the album, which was an initiative of renowned DJ and one of the most prolific record-collectors in the country, Gilles Peterson, who has himself spearheaded the celebration and nurturing of UK raised jazz talent for over thirty years.

Garcia performed a heart-warming rendition of the track ‘Once,’ from the album, demonstrating her intrinsic ability to make a touching harmony with the oscillating notes of her saxophone. Once again to the exclusion of the sax, as Garcia takes a breather from an intense two-minute climax in the track, the melodic tête-à-tête of drums and keys from Jones and Armon-Jones bubbles frivolously to the surface allowing for the effervescence to be swiftly wiped away by the warm overtone of Garcia and her sax.

Garcia herself has credited small, intimate gigs, such as her show at the Black Box, as being the only way that she can connect with her audiences, citing the fact that “every show is different.” Her showcase of an unreleased track to conclude the evening, ‘Pace,’ was a testament to this – openly sharing deeply personal elements of her artistry with her fans. ‘Pace,’ Garcia explained explored both “the struggle and the beauty” of the day-to-day living in London – the intimate mood of the track absorbed the already relaxed temperament of the audience – one of Garcia’s inimitable qualities as a musician as well as an entertainer.

Nubya Garcia along with her incredibly talented musicians left their mark as one of the highlights of this year’s Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in Belfast, allowing for this very active music scene to be showcased to a Northern Ireland audience – making it a truly national movement. Nubya Garcia’s sound and energy and its truly hypnotic effects leave an eagerness amongst those who experienced her talent to await her return, once again, to this side of the Irish sea.

Nubya Garcia along with her band are currently at the end of their European tour and can be seen at The NOS Primavera Sound festival in Portugal between 6th and 8th June as well as London’s Brockwell Park on June 9th.

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