For all of the upsurge in interest in the UK in jazz in recent years, the Rough Trade album club offering has not captured the fantastic new releases that have been helping to forge a new sound. New albums by the Ezra Collective, Sons of Kemet, Comet Is Calling, Kamaal Williams haven’t featured heavily in either the primary selection for a given month or the end of year review.
Nejira’s “Blume” is a breath of fresh air in that context. Released on three-sided orange vinyl (the fourth side is a patterned engraving), Nerija is almost n all-female septet. The set up is intriguing. A four-piece horn section (trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey, trombonist Rosie Turton, saxophonists Cassie Kinoshi and Nubya Garcia) are backed by a rhythm section of Shirley Tetteh on guitar, Rio Kai on double bass and drummer Lizy Exell.
This rather unconventional horn-heavy line up (at least in the current jazz scene) offers up some intriguing sonic combinations. The larger brass section means that the heads (i.e. where the melody of the song is introduced) are punchy. Turton’s trombone offers up a looseness that results in interplay even in the context of the introduction of this first blast of the melody. The opening Nascence is a perfect example of this.
Kai’s use of an upright bass rather than an electric bass further reinforces this sense of things shifting around. The lack of the keyboard’s results in Tetteh’s guitar becoming the main rhythmic space filler. She’s got a lovely tone, very clean and untreated. In fact, the lack of electronics from any of the instruments is refreshing. There’s no gimmickry here, just intuitive musicianship.
Blume is their debut album, following a 12″ EP that was released in 2016. It’s an album that is serious fun. Whilst the musical chops are clearly evident, there is enough DNA from other genres (hip-hop, reggae, afro) to make the album rhythmically diverse. Last Straw is funky, with a skittering hit hat, the soundtrack to a South London car chase. EU (Emotionally Unbound) is underpinned by a splashy ride cymbal.
There’s melody too though. Riverfest is the prime example and is my favourite track at the moment. Whilst the horns take up the lead, everyone drops out quite quickly to be left with an energetic trio of guitar, drums and bass. It is simultaneously spare but rich. The two versions of the title track feature a beautiful chorus of harmonies.
The album was recorded in a week at Soup Studios in East London. It’s a unique environment, an analogue recording studio on a decommissioned lightship (Lightship 95 to be precise). They rented a flat together and all mucked in. The band members all have extracurricular interests, in other bands (SEED collective and KOKOROKO for example) and with solo careers (Nubya Garcia). There was a need to bottle the lightning quickly which is evident in the playing. It has an urgency and immediacy, not music that has the questionable luxury of being honed over multiple takes.
In a recent interview with Jazzwise magazine, drummer Lizy Exell commented:
There’s a family feel to the thing. When we’re all playing it’s joyous.
This is apparent in the music. So much of what is coming out of the London jazz scene at the moment shares this sense of the collective. Joe Armon-Jones second LP, Turn To Clear View, released this month has a similar feel. Both hip-hop/nu-soul starts Loyle Carner and Jorja Smith appeared on this year’s Ezra Collective album, of which Armon-Jones is a member.
These are exciting times indeed.