Songs We Love: Nubya Garcia, 'When We Are'

Feb 20, 2018

When a jazz musician mentions "the club," you can usually infer that she's referring to a jazz club. Not so with Nubya Garcia, an emerging tenor saxophonist who has also cultivated a reputation as a DJ. More to the point, the energy of U.K. club culture resonates deeply for Garcia, not as some crossover digression but rather as the pulse of a lifeblood.

Garcia, born in the Camden district of northwest London to Caribbean parents, belongs to a stylish young jazz cohort making a lot of joyful noise at the moment. She's on We Out Here, a new compilation from Gilles Peterson's Brownswood Recordings, alongside heralded artists like saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings and drummer Moses Boyd.

Garcia released a strong, self-declarative debut, Nubya's 5ive, last year. But her message really comes across in the clamor of performance: During a recent British Jazz Showcase organized by Peterson at the NYC Winter Jazzfest, she was far and away the standout talent, balancing forward thrust with laid-back cool.

Her partners on that gig — Joe Armon-Jones on keyboards, Daniel Casimir on bass and Femi Koleoso on drums — also join her on the excellent, self-released When We Are EP. And as you can hear on the title track, they've nearly perfected that push-pull dynamic, the feeling of hurtling propulsion beneath a horn solo that hangs in the pocket.

Garcia has an imploring and soulful style on tenor, with enough controlled brawn in her tone to evoke a touchstone like Sonny Rollins. She isn't a pyrotechnics specialist or a speed demon; her main concern is the strength of her bond with the groove. But "When We Are" demonstrates her knack for building momentum in a solo, more in an emotional than a narrative sense. (Note how she builds a mounting pressure with her phrasing after the three-minute mark.)

The four-track EP — including one remix apiece from the London producers Maxwell Owin and Kieron Ifill, better known as K15 — can be understood as another shining dispatch from the London jazz scene, and the product of a peer group. (Armon-Jones and Koleoso are also members of Ezra Collective, which has its own track on the We Out Here compilation.) But Garcia is stretching beyond a strict jazz constituency here, with unforced and persuasive results.


When We Are comes out March 8 (pre-order).

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