Live reviews

REVIEW:Nubya Garcia at the 2019 Cheltenham jazz Festival,

Nubya Garcia in Cheltenham
Photo credit and ©: John Watson/
Nubya Garcia 
(House of Fraser Basement. Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 3 May 2019. Review by Mike Collins)

As the lights dimmed and Gilles Peterson introduced himself over the PA, the large crowd pressed forward to where the low stage was set up at the far end of the somewhat unpromising looking, bare concrete basement. A quick adjustment of the spotlights directed at the stage and Nubya Garcia’s quartet launched into the rolling groove of Fly Free.

This is the space in which DJ and long-standing champion of new music Peterson is presenting the strand he has curated in the Cheltenham Jazz programme. The buzzing crowd and cooking band certainly generated an atmosphere. Garcia has released an album and an EP with this band to date, and the set drew mainly on that material. It’s not hard to appreciate why they’ve created such a stir.

The music draws on plenty of sources, rhythmic and melodic, to create their individual, thoroughly contemporary sound. Live, they are a thrilling band and the leader’s sound and fire are central to that excitement. Fly Free morphed seamlessly between the Afro-flavoured groove underpinning the declamatory phrases of the theme, and a surging samba-like groove. As she did throughout the set, Nubya built a solo that piled hooky phrases on top of each other, with blazing, zig-zagging runs in between, building to a crescendo of anguished cries and hoots. Source from the recent EP and Hold from their first album followed. A ska-like pulse swept by and gusts of reggae blew around dreamy swirling sax; clattering, broken beats from Sam Jones on the drums locked with Daniel Casimir’s bass. Joe Armon Jones on keys pulled out some incendiary solos switching between percussive episodes that bounced of the bass and drums and sparkling, rippling runs. The quartet worked together, stoking the energy like a well-oiled machine, they’re a great unit.

A long tenor intro brought in the last tune When we are, shards of interlocking beats anchored by Casimir’s pulsating driving bass, another intense, squalling climax gradually emerging. Nubya Garcia’s urgent sometimes keening, always passionate and driving playing had a real flavour of the spiritual jazz of late Coltrane. This was a great start to a packed Cheltenham weekend.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

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