Global Beat: Nubya Garcia

Jeff Tamarkin on November 30, 2020
Global Beat: Nubya Garcia

With two EPs behind her, London-born jazz saxophonist and composer Nubya Garcia knew it was time to make a grand statement. And Source—her first full-length album, which was released by Concord Jazz in late August—is just that. Its nine tracks brim with inventiveness and diversity, all stamped with a deep, innate soulfulness.

“It’s a story and a journey— a collection of my sonic mantras, my thoughts and feelings,” Garcia says of her new music. “My last two EPs felt like short stories in one way and an exploration in another way. This album feels like more of a full picture—a complete train of thought.”

Collaborating with producer Kwes, and accompanied by keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones, bassist Daniel Casimir and drummer Sam Jones, Garcia takes a marked leap creatively with these forward-thrusting performances. A number of guests also add their voices to the music, including alto saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi, trombonist Richie Seivwright, trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey and vocalist Akenya. Among the album’s highlights are “Pace,” which opens the program and serves as the set’s first single, and a 12-minute expansion of the title track, which originally appeared on 2018’s When We Are. “I redid ‘Source’ because I heard another feeling within it,” says Garcia. “Everything just slotted into place with a dub [vibe] and allowed us to stretch out in a different way.”

Born to a Guyanese mother and a British Trinidadian filmmaker father, the 29-yearold Garcia began playing saxophone at age 10, influenced by a roll call of jazz giants: Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, Wayne Shorter and Cannonball Adderley. She studied formally both in the U.K. and the U.S. and was still in her midtwenties when she released her first recordings, 2017’s Nubya’s 5ive and 2018’s When We Are. (The latter EP incorporated some electronics into the mix.) Garcia credits her experiences as a live performer with allowing her to grow her music to the level displayed on Source.

For her efforts, she added a handful of prestigious statues to her shelf at the 2018 and 2019 Jazz FM Awards in Britain, first as Breakthrough Act of the Year and then moving up to Jazz FM U.K. Jazz Act of the Year. Her work as a collaborator and in-demand sidewoman has also brought her increased recognition.

And, up until COVID hit, Garcia was well on her way to becoming a seasoned veteran of the festival circuit, having performed in other parts of Europe as well as Australia, India and North America. In addition to Source, Garcia also appears on a new compilation album, Blue Note Re:imagined—a tribute to the storied jazz label, on which she works up a rearrangement of Joe Henderson’s “A Shade of Jade.”

“Playing as much as possible with as many bands and musicians as possible is a really great way to improve, alongside personal practice,” she says. “Putting yourself in different musical setups and situations gets you out of your comfort zone, if you start to get into one. In terms of the tunes that we write together, I’ve gotten so much out of each band’s different melodic style. I love to play other people’s music. I’ve also been lucky enough to grow up around some amazing composers, who are so inspiring.”

Mostly though, Garcia is excited to have an album of her music out there, with a top-shelf label like Concord Jazz standing behind her. The recording boasts particularly striking fidelity and the production sizzles throughout. “We spent the time making sure everything felt balanced,” she says. “The bass needed to feel like it was all around you— that you could feel it in your bones—especially on ‘Source.’ That song has a vibe that says, ‘I want the bass to rattle your car.’ We did lots of different things, taking the time to put some subtle textures in there, to bring a warmth and thickness as much as possible. And we also added some effects to just swirl things around.”

While each song exudes its own sonic identity, the album undeniably feels of a piece—its cohesiveness gives it an added forcefulness and profundity; Source demands to be listened to in its entirety. “I wanted the whole album to feel like one— to be unified throughout—but also for each of the songs to embody very different elements and sounds,” Garcia says. “I knew, starting this album, that I wanted to get deeper into the production side, to thicken out what we do live, and to pour some time into fine-tuning the intricacies of sound that we don’t always get to do live. Kwes and I were all about adding some amazing subtle things—and also less subtle things—but always in the realm of complementing the music. The music always led us.

“Composition-wise,” she adds, “I wanted to push myself to experiment with different methods of writing that I hadn’t done before. And I also wanted to challenge myself to push through, to find my melodies in less obvious places. I wanted some of the melodies to sound like they were being sung. It feels nice. I’m just so happy to play and make music, and grateful that people enjoy my playing. It’s all pretty surreal, to be honest. But at the end of the day, the music is always going to be the most important thing to me.”