Nérija were at the forefront of the new musical wave bursting out of the South London/Tomorrow’s Warriors nexus back in pre-Brexit Britain – we booked them for New Generation Jazz’s second ever show in 2016, and featured them again on the Love Supreme bandstand the next year. Four years is a long time in politics and a long time in music as well; Nérija were snapped up by uber-hip tastemakers Domino records, but since then the individual careers of the entire five- woman frontline have taken off and rather overshadowed the memory of their collective. Here they are, back with their long-awaited debut, and with a wealth of extra experience to bring to the mix. Each of the band members contributes a composition, including bassist and relative newcomer Rio Kai who also supplies some tough and supple bass grooves and a nifty solo on Riverfest. The bold, stridently declamatory frontline arrangements surely owe something to Cassie Kinoshi’s experience with her own Seed Ensemble big band (Kai is bassist for that outfit), but everyone brings their own personality to the mix. Shirley Tetteh’s guitar is a central component to the sound – her biting tone and deftly economical chord and texture work operate in the gap between the punchy rhythm section and the hefty frontline, adding touches of Afrobeat, Caribbean styles, and even indie rock while leaving a minimalist, spacious canvas for the other soloists to paint over. Kinoshi’s alto burns with passion on Swift and her own EU – Nubya’s percussive phrasing and attractively foggy tone are unmistakeable on Last Straw, Turton builds up a head of brassy steam on Equanimous (and adds some neat rhythmic displacements to the finale of her composition Unbound) and Maurice- Gray shines on her Nascence and her own Last Straw. But ultimately it’s very much an ensemble creation, with the different voices complementing rather than competing.
Domino have kept the production pretty minimal – Lizy Exell’s drums are crisp and high in the mix, and there are subtle additions like the banks of textural vocals on Blume and the subtle panning and ethereal reverb that steals up like a mist to cloak Nubya’s solo
on Last Straw – the result is curiously closer to the kind of clean-but- processed sound that recalls acts like Portico Quartet or Gogo Penguin rather than the earthier club vibe favoured by a lot of the current crop of young players. Nérija are back, all the stronger for their absence.
Nubya Garcia, tenor sax; Sheila Maurice-Grey, trumpet; Cassie Kinoshi, alto sax; Rosie Turton, trombone; Shirley Tetteh, guitar; Lizy Exell, drums; Rio Kai, bass.