REVIEW: Naima at Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club (2017 EFG LJF)

Naima at Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club
L-R:Enrique Ruiz, Oscar Cuchillo, Luis Torregrosa
Photo credit: Ina Irens
(Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club. 12 November 2017.  EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by AJ Dehany)

It has been said (by me at least) that if you scratch a nursery rhyme you’ll find a murder ballad underneath. Within the sweetest confection there is an aching darkness.

Spanish trio Naima’s fourth album Bye was released on Cuneiform last year. The liner notes state that the album was “composed at one of the most difficult moments which, unfortunately, all of us have to go through: the two biggest losses which a son, a father, and a mother can have.” The group’s history, like that of Spain itself, is a history of sadness and struggle. The cryptic dedication in the album, their personal challenges and personnel changes and the slow pace of recognition since 2004, these things burn in their music. They’re from Valencia. The word itself means “strength” or “valour”.

Naima’s music has a plangent yearning sentiment with a hard edge. Their typical dynamic is a strong but sweetly sad Jobimesque melodic piano line with rumbling darkness underneath, propelled by pianist Enrique Ruiz’s smoky Rachmaninovian romantic chords, Oscar Cuchillo’s muscular bass playing and drummer Luis Torregrosa‘s beats from dance and rock, with degrees of electronic ornamentation.

The trio played two nights at the London Jazz Festival: Saturday at experimental arts hub Iklectik, and Sunday at the brand new Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club, a beguiling basement hideaway where their darkly Scandi-esque electroacoustic sound went down so well the band said they’d like to come back and play a whole week there.

Naima would suit those who find the Bad Plus too clever-clever, or people who like Radiohead but find Thom Yorke too whiny. Their instrumental repertoire includes versions of the late beloved Elliot Smith’s Can’t Make a Sound, and the drum and bass stomp of Animal Chin by Jaga Jazzist, the acclaimed Scandinavian nu-jazz outfit whose style of catchy cinematic jazz is a clear influence. Naima opened their second set with Ana by the Pixies, the aching perfection of its melody underpinned by unsettling chords.

As composer Ryuichi Sakamoto said, a perfect melody is one where you feel you know it already, and then it throws you off. This is the mainstay of Naima’s melodic writing as well: precisely chipped, strong but vulnerable. The group is exploring new directions with a new bass player at an interesting point in their journey. “This is a really experimental one,” said drummer Luis Torregrosa, “I hope you don’t get embarrassed.” It started with bloopy electronic sounds, settling into another of the group’s stately piano melodies but with more non-chordal machine-like noise and disturbance, giving it a slightly more earnest and tormented feel to the album tracks, though not radically dissimilar to Naima’s usual darkly filmic melodicism.

Album cornerstone Future Imperfect was introduced as “another path of Naima—we’ve got several.” In the intimate brick arches of the tiny club it sounded cavernous: dark and driving and discordant with heavy clattering jazz-industrial rhythms, the right hand scattering discordantly melodic notes. Their live performance draws the murder ballad out from the nursery rhyme, not anguished but emotionally wrought. All at once the tension released and cleared in a moving sequence of resolving chords, implying hopefulness rescued from the edge of despair.

“We will tell you why the record is called Bye,” he said, “but we want to have a party, not sad feelings right now. We are Naima. Flamenco band from Spain.”

 Tune: Al Llegar Sabríamos Tanto Como Ella (title is some head-achey Spanish meaning roughly ‘on arrival, we would know as much as she does’ (ie. she has knowledge of something because she’s already there)

AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk

Naima’s Bye is released on Cuneiform Records (LINK)
Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club is at 23-25 New End, Hampstead NW3 1JD (WEBSITE)

Categories: miscellaneous

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