|Album Review: Nérija – Blume|
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For many decades, jazz music has existed in a state of identity confusion, caught between the worlds of highbrow art music and downhome folk music made by and for the people. Birthed by African slaves on American plantations, the music, like its origins, has never been stable. From those fields, the music has traveled all around the world in the past century, and the music has evolved along with it. While debates rage over the definition and proper place for jazz in our culture, the common thread through it all has always been the energy between the players as they create artwork in the heat of the moment. In keeping with that tradition, the London collective Nérija has released a debut full-length album entitled Blume on Domino Records that contains ten songs of spellbinding music that offers something for the purists as well as fans of the cutting edge.
Nérija is the product of an underground jazz scene in London that has been absolutely exploding recently with artists like Shabaka Hutchings, Moses Boyd, and Yazmin Lacey, among so many others. With Blume, Nérija stakes their claim as a major figure in the fruitful scene that is pushing jazz into newer territory with each new release. The septet contains some of the most sought-after players in London like Nubya Garcia (tenor saxophone), Sheila Maurice-Grey (trumpet), Cassie Kinoshi (alto saxophone), Rosie Turton (trombone), Shirley Tetteh (guitar), Lizy Exell (drums), and Rio Kai (bass). The formidable ensemble has established unbreakable bonds through playing in various configurations with groups like KOKOROKO and SEED Ensemble as well as backing up Little Simz and Congo Natty. On Blume, audiences bear witness to a group of stellar musicians utilizing their exceptional talent in a display of dazzling interplay and organic, infectious energy.
Creating instrumental music that is accessible and poignant is no easy task, and Nérija is able to achieve the feat with a combination of affecting melodies and danceable beats. On one of the early standout tracks, “Riverfest,” for example, the rhythm section delivers an afrobeat flavor that provides a captivating backdrop for the song’s syncopated yet beautifully emotive melody in the horns. The tune “Partner Girlfriend Lover” features a fascinating back-and-forth between rhythm section riffs and blossoming horn lines. Later on “EU (Emotionally Unavailable),” the group switches gears with a patient hip-hop beat and slow-moving melody that evokes as many complex emotions as the track’s title.
There are other tracks on Blume where the group shines through its plethora of stirring solos. “Last Straw” features a frenzied feel before eventually settling into a lively funk groove, setting the table for an expansive solo from Garcia, full of dexterous flourishes and repeating phrases that takes the band’s energy to another level. Maurice-Grey, who wrote the tune, follows with a celestial trumpet solo that starts at a simmer with the rhythm section breaking down to almost nothing before gradually building together to take off into the stratosphere with assistance from some choice production effects. Nérija identifies as a collective, and in keeping with that concept, every member gets time in the spotlight, each providing their own unique flavor of expression that gives the rest of the band different exciting ways to react.
Amid the virtuosic solos, sophisticated arrangements, and crackling beats are two brief entries to the set by Garcia simply titled “Blume” and Blume II,” which provide breaks in the action with gentle moments of pure musical beauty. With touching harmonies and swirling, long-tone melodies in the horns and some vocals layered in, Nérija reveal the crux of what makes the album effective, which is their irresistible synergy. Matched with exceptional musicianship and taste, the group coalesces on these two songs in ways that are meditative, touching, and unforgettable.
It might be easy to think that with the assembly of talent in Nérija, the musical results will automatically be impressive. What we’ve learned from the jazz tradition, though, is that the music has always been communal, with the real magic resulting from musicians’ relations to one another. Listening to ten seconds of any of the songs will reveal the band’s immense skill, but a deeper dive shows a special level of connectivity that brings the music to life. With any luck, Blume is only just the beginning for Nérija.