Album of the Week \\ Nérija paint all elements of life on remarkable debut, ‘Blume’

9th August 2019
With their long awaited debut album out on Domino, Nérija have way more than tight friendships to show us

Words: Emma Finamore

Nérija is a project rooted in friendship. This isn’t just soppy sentiment, it’s hard necessity: a seven-piece Jazz collective, their breakneck shifts in tempo and style rely on a deep mutual understanding of one another’s moods and expressions. As well as a friendship group, though, they’re also something of a super group, comprising Nubya Garcia (tenor saxophone), Sheila Maurice-Grey (trumpet), Shirley Tetteh (guitar), Cassie Kinoshi (alto saxophone), Rosie Turton (trombone), Lizy Exell (drums) and Rio Kai (bass).

Their debut ‘NÉRIJA EP’ was originally composed, recorded and self-released following encounters and collaborations via London’s game-chinging Tomorrow’s Warriors in 2016, and since then (like any dynamic collective) members have gone on to forge their own separate paths as well as remaining part of Nérija: Nubya Garcia, KOKOROKO, SEED Ensemble, Nardeydey and Rosie Turton Quintet, for example, as well as leading instrumental lines for the likes of Little Simz and Congo Natty.

The vibrant ‘Blume’ marks a home-coming of sorts, then, and proof that once a collective, always a collective. With producer Kwes (who’s worked with the likes of Bobby Womack, Damon Albarn, Kelela, Loyle Carner, Nao and Solange) wanting to channel the vibe of Teo Macero and Stanley Tonkel’s records with Miles Davis during his Columbia years – to capture the “controlled chaos and frame it with a timeless elegance”. 

All the performances were captured live in the warm and inviting wood-treated, instrument-laden live space of Soup Studios in early 2018 during a cold January week. With very few overdubs, it was committed to tape. Naturally lit and cosy, it became almost a family living room, deepening the bonds of Nérija. But as romantic as this creation story is, it’s the very tangible, cold-light-of-day skill, versatility, musicianship and hard graft of the collective that’s built this remarkable record. 

It’s a project of great variety too, sprawling even, all the while tied together by the thread of Nérija; coursing with the history of Jazz but unafraid to explore other wide-reaching influences. The joyous lilting of ‘Riverfest’, with its glowing noodling guitar alongside glittering, driving percussion, is impossible not to groove and wind along with. 

Sheila Maurice Grey’s ‘Last Straw’ is infectious in its foot-tapping speedy funk intro – skippy, bright bursts punctuating the groove before the track melts into something altogether more trippy – while the sax solo in Cassie Kinoshi’s explosive, power-ballad-esque ‘EU (Emotionally Unavailable)’ is like something straight out of George Michael’s classic ‘Careless Whisper’. 

‘Blume’ is rich and dreamy, all lush harmonies lingering above crystalline instrumentation breaking over the melancholy intro, contrasting with the urgent, insistent beat (is that the simple yet effective drumming of hand on guitar?) of ‘Equanimous’, which runs centre stage through the track, anchoring guitar and trumpet solos. 

‘Swift’ is fun and perky: a funk-driven, shoulder bobbing intro gives way to buoyant brass and a fizzing drum solo, the switching up and down of tempo showcasing the collective’s artistry while painting a coherent, joyful soundscape. ‘Unbound’ feels woozy and wistful at first, building while writer Rosie Turton’s trombone sparring with guitar and other brass for attention. ‘Blume II’ is our emotional, emotive, goodbye: full-throated and full-hearted vocals yearning over bubbling instrumentation before fluttering and fading out of focus. 

While each track here is unique, the overriding impression is one of a multifaceted landscape: Nérija have painted all of life here. Love, loss, joy, melancholy; morning rides on the bus and dancing at dawn with friends; moments of quiet solitude and explosive shared experience. ‘Blume’ is the sound of a young, creative life, told in three-dimensions, up close. 

Order ‘Blume by Nérija here

Listen to our podcast with Nubya Garcia, available across all platforms

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