03 Dec, Thursday
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Review: Nubya Garcia – Black Box, CQAF 2019

Tagged by The Guardian as far back as February 2018 as the rising star of British music, tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia has been crossing boundaries and breaking traditions with what many see as a new and innovative style, blending jazz, afrobeat and neo-soul.

It’s not just the dear old Guardian either, she has been singled out by The Wire, The New York Times and Rolling Stone as one of the new driving forces in jazz. Collaborations with drummer Moses Boyd, producer Congo Natty and electrifying contributions to bands like Maisha and the Nérija Quartet have shown her range, but it is her solo material such as the EP 5ive (2017) and the single ‘When We Are’ (2017) that you truly get a sense of the depth of her talent and passion.

Garcia takes to the stage on a traditionally damp Belfast night accompanied by Joe Armon-Jones (keyboards), Daniel Casimir (upright bass) and Sam Jones (drums) and she immediately comes across as incredibly personal and warm, instructing the audience to come forward and fill the gap at the front of the stage. Once this is complete, she dives head first into the music. The band have some early issues with the sound on stage and Armon-Jones’ keyboards sound a little tinny during the first number, but these seem to be resolved fairly quickly.

Across a roughly 75 minute set, the band cover maybe four tracks, including “Fly Free,” “Source” and “Hold.” Very early on we get to experience the use of unconventional rhythms and while the performance would fit somewhere inside a definition of free form and improvisational jazz, it covers a lot more ground than would be the norm.

Garcia’s playing is incredibly intricate and evocative; she uses repeating notes and phrases that build and evolve through each tune – phrases that at times seem to loop around on themselves before heading off in an unexpected direction. Her playing pulsates and she goes up and down the registers of the tenor sax at speed; her solos seem never ending but always reach some kind of resolution or conclusion. Garcia’s tone is perfect – she plays with a sense of urgency but is never too harsh nor obvious.

The band are pretty damn good too. There were more changes of time signature and tempo than I could keep up with and there were a huge range of rhythms on display – latin, Caribbean, African, dub, dubstep and reggae all made appearances at some stage. Sam Jones’ drumming is thunderous at times and at others, delicate and intricate. He gives us a monumental drum solo to start the track ‘Hold’and this reaches a point where the rest of the band are standing watching, laughing and just waiting for a chance to join in.

While the three main tunes of the evening were familiar, the last one was not. Garcia informs the audience that “Pace” is, as yet, unrecorded, and explains how she wrote it as a way of describing what it felt like to live in London – the size, the hustle and bustle and the problems carrying a large saxophone on the Underground. Danny Casimir leads on bass and sets the scene beautifully. What starts out as a traditional jazz bass line changes pace and tempo to reflect the heartbeat of a city and the movement within it. Garcia’s sax paints a picture of a cityscape – the feel of moving around in a large city – the excitement and anxiety –building to a frantic climax before dropping back to the slower backing beat. There is time for Armon-Jones to provide some machine-gun keyboard playing before the tune ends.

This was, without a doubt, a stunning night of jazz that brought something new and innovative to the Black Box, courtesy of CQAF and Moving On Music. Garcia proved her status as one of the newest and brightest lights not just in British Jazz, but in British music. Her style is uncompromising and challenging but also original, fresh and wildly exciting. Total magic from start to finish.

Photographer and sometime reviewer with an eclectic taste in all things visual and musical. Still struggles to understand jazz.