This is where London really kicks in. It is a cold dank night in the middle of February. The post Storm Ciara and Dennis puddles fill the gutters. You think it is unseasonably mild and a sharp blast of icy wind make your hands dig deeper into your pockets. You need something to transport you, to summertime, toward warmth, toward joy.
Say hello to Nerija in an old warehouse in Shoreditch. The Village Underground is a shelter from the wind and the rain. The old walls though can barely contain the sheer force of the music being created on stage.
Nerija are part of the wonderful wave of young British jazz stars, moving the old genre away from chin stroking into something much more engaging. Choose from any of the following – Kamaal Williams, Joe Armon-Jones, Ezra Collective, Comet Is Coming, Moses Boyd, Sarathy Korwar, Sons Of Kemet – the list keeps on growing. The music is new, energetic and engaging. It draws as much from hip hop and grime as it does from Blue Note and Impulse.
Their debut album, Blume, was one of favourite LPs of 2019, a Rough Trade Album of the Month last summer. I’d missed seeing them play live but this was a must, catching them in their home town, halfway through their European tour. 6 women and one guy, this is a band for today. I touched on their unique format in my post on them last year – a four piece horn section, no piano with the guitar covering much of the rhythmic heavy lifting along with a wonderful double bass and drums combo.
I won’t run through the various members here. You can find out who’s who from my earlier review of Blume. Opening with Where It Begins and Ends (a wonderful non-album track from last year), it was clear that the crowd were on side. Every solo was greated with a cheer, applause rising as the intensity increased. Highlighting individual players seems wrong, as this was about both the sum of the parts with everyone getting their time in the spotlight.
The rhythm section were exemplary providing the power that allowed the horns to do their thing. Their particularly thing was wide ranging, from Coltrane-like sheets of sound to West Indian and African influenced melodic solos. The band were clearly delighted to be back in London and even more so to hear that they’d sold out of vinyl at the merch stand.
I hear that Nerija will be hitting the festivals in the summer. They’re already booked for The End of The Road in September.
If they can be this good in the squall of winter, heaven knows what they’ll be like in the heat of an English summer.
Now where did I put that fingers crossed emoji?