Rebecca Nash – “Redefining Element 78”
(World Heart Beat, Nine Elms. 18 November 2023. EFG LJF. Review by Rob Mallows)
The World Heart Beat studio and performance space provided a welcome oasis of soul and creativity on Saturday evening (in one of the most soulless and nondescript parts of ‘new’ London…) by hosting the vinyl launch of an intriguing and satisfying suite of starkly modern jazz by pianist Rebecca Nash.
Nestling among the cookie-cutter flats and glass towers of the new development surrounding the US embassy, the World Heart Beat is like a single wildflower emerging from the soil in an architectural volcanic wasteland, providing much needed cultural enrichment for this part of town. An adjunct to the nearby music academy which nurtures local musical talent, this cracking little venue hosts music from across the globe in a comfortable space with a top notch sound system and super atmosphere.
On Saturday that space reverberated to the sonorous and emotionally intense compositions of Rebecca Nash’s new suite of eight tunes based – intriguingly – around chemistry. Originally commissioned for the Bristol Jazz Festival to honour chemist Ian Thorne (a unique 70th birthday gift from a wife to a husband), each of the pieces is associated with a precious metal: platinum, osmium, rhodium, iridium, ruthenium and palladium. The album ranks alongside Flanders and Swan’s The Elements one of the few successful music/chemistry mashups out there.
The reaction – pun absolutely intended – from the audience to Nash’s playing was strong evidence that this piece, another jazz album nurtured in the creative substrate created by the pandemic lockdown, deserves all the accolades that will I’m sure accrete to it.
Not yet a subscriber of our Wednesday Breakfast Headlines?
Join the mailing list for a weekly roundup of Jazz News.
Her sextet comprised John O’Gallagher on saxophone; Nick Malcolm on trumpet; Paul Michael on bass; Nick Walters on electronics; and long-standing collaborator Matt Fisher on drums. All put in fine performances, but on many of the tracks for me the sweet tone and reactive soloing of Michael’s electric bass, and the intricate dexterity of Fisher’s drumming, were the standout feature, complimenting Nash’s fireworks brilliantly.
How does one interpret the idea of Platinum – Element 78 of the periodic table – as a jumping off point for a suite of modern jazz? In Nash’s case, create a juicy melodic theme which, like a hidden atomic structure, defines the deep structure and appearance of the whole suite. This motif appears isotope-like in different forms across other tracks, and was interpreted through contrasting reactions from O’Gallagher’s saxophone and Malcolm’s trumpet, both of whom blew with gusto and delicacy in equal measures, or lustrous soundscapes when paired with the ethereal computer-generated soundscapes.
As you would expect in any suite, there are contrasts of stillness and bubbling turmoil, and many periods of harmonic tension and release, as well as improvisation and composition in equal measure which generated musical chiral compounds that sparked and fizzed.
Platinum – like the other metals interpreted by Nash – is regarded as a noble element due to its resistance to corrosion and structural stability. One of the dictionary definitions of noble is ‘of imposing size or appearance’, and Nash’s Redefining Element 78 does, through its unceasing movement and rich, angular harmonic choices, feel worthy of that moniker.
The final track, Platinum – Noble Heart, brought all the elements of the seven previous pieces together in a lustrous finish. Precious metals have always been sought out by humanity for their beauty and timeless quality and with this new album, Nash has created a suite of material which one suspects will shine and retain its lustre for a long, long time.
As well as being a composer, Nash is also an educator a Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and support for Nash in the first half came from one of her students, saxophonist/singer/composer Rebecca Wing, a fourth year student in Birmingham who has also, since the age of eight, had a connection with the World Heart Beat Academy under the guidance of pianist Julian Joseph. So, something of a homecoming.
A short set by her quintet included Wayne Shorter and Brian Blade tracks as well as her own compositions; their playing was fundamentally sound albeit a little rough around the edges at certain moments, but you expect that from musicians still learning the tricks of their trade. But playing alongside and learning from polished performers like Nash, Wing will I’m sure earn her place on jazz’s musical periodic table.