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The New Cool: Nubya Garcia puts the jazz back in modern jazz

Photo credit: Adama Jalloh
Saxophonist Nubya Garcia is receiving cheers for her new debut album.

English saxophonist Nubya Garcia (pronounced nuh-BI-ya) is one of the key players on the exploding London jazz scene. Already possessing her own powerful personality on sax, Garcia celebrates the full range of her influences on her new album, Source. This forward looking album has a strong connection to the past.

Garcia was raised in a house of musicians and music fans, and schooled in an encouraging educational environment in London's lively Camden Town district. She also was a talented athlete, which may contribute to her passion for musical teamwork.

New Cool fans have heard Nubya Garcia as a guest with modern jazz groups like Blue Lab Beats, Ezra Collective, and with drummer Makaya McCraven's band. She's released a pair of EPs, and appears five times on the acclaimed Brownswood Recordings compilation We Out Here. Source gives Garcia the space to finally, fully explore her impressive talent.

On my first listen to Source, the legacy of John Coltrane and Dexter Gordon came to mind. Garcia confidently blows long notes on the album's first few songs. She's no show off, savoring the moment and the music. Garcia brings a bright, exploratory spirit to everything she plays, but she never overshadows the music. She elevates it.

The more expansive songs on Source call to mind the spiritual jazz of Coltrane or Pharoah Sanders, but it's also more intense than the similarly described music of modern sax star Kamasi Washington.

Comparisons to other saxophonists often include mention of legends like Gordon or even Sonny Rollins, but I also hear the influence of Garcia's fellow Londoner and friend Shabaka Hutchings' firey rhythmic style.

Garcia's band includes Ezra Collective keys player Joe Armon-Jones, and he's featured to fine effect on (mostly) electric keyboards with a few dazzling, extended solos. Drummer Sam Jones keeps the rhythms varied from tight and frenetic to langorous and groovy. Playing trumpet as Ms. Maurice on two songs and part of a vocal trio on two more is Sheila Maurice-Grey.

Credit Album artwork by Clairelaurâ
The splatter vinyl edition of Nubya Garcia's debut album is sure to be a collectors' item.

Nubya Garcia encorporates Afro-Caribbean rhythms from her family tradition to the majority of Source. Her mother is from Guyana, her father from Trinidad. Garcia's flowing saxophone lines often act as a counter-point to skittering funk drums, some dubby reggae beats, and a cool cumbia featuring just percussion and Garcia's saxophone.

Actually, there are also vocals on the wonderful song "La Cumbia Me Esta Llamando," courtesy of the Columbian trio La Perla. The song was recorded in their hometown of Bogota, and provides the album with one of its strongest melodies.

Vocalists also feature prominently on some of my favorite songs. Three of Nubya Garcia's fellow female horn players in London add harmonized, wordless vocals to the epic title track, and the sparse "Stand with Each Other." Self-assured saxophone meditates on a spiritual melodic phrase, subtly surveying the five notes over gentle percussion. The message of female empowerment in the title is important to Garcia, and the song's quality speaks for itself.

The closer for Source is the short, but very sweet, "Boundless Beings." The album's only English lyrics were written by the guest vocalist, Chicago native Akenya. Her flexible voice recalls Esperanza Spalding with a hint of Janelle Monae.

In the catchy hook, Akenya sings about the neverending spirit of musicians. Also, as Garcia puts it, "the idea of boundless beings gestures towards a bigger sense of spiritual freedom. It’s about reaching beyond all the things we’re taught to aim for and covet. It’s asking what are the things that inspire you or make you feel fed within your soul? What makes you feel empowered and alive?"

Nubya Garcia's Source is alive with the spirit of jazz, and a strong statement from an important artist just beginning to express herself. Join us Saturday on The New Cool to hear for yourself.

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.

Abe grew up in Western Washington, a 3rd generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.