ALBUM REVIEW: Nérija’s ‘Blume’ blossoms with catchiness and spontaneity

Nérija, Blume

Whether you look to the festivals and workshops, the communal aspect of jazz—or the amount of personal chemistry it requires—is a major part of its longevity. This is evident in the origin story of Nérija, a U.K. group formed at the London educational foundation and a jam session called Tomorrow’s Warriors. The septet has quickly risen within the burgeoning British jazz scene. As the band’s first LP following a self-titled EP, Blume has the unenviable task of conveying the energy of its lauded live performances. Though the LP maintains a compelling semblance of the combo-jazz traditions, Blume blossoms with diversity, catchiness and spontaneity.

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Opener “Nascence” effectively deals the cards at play on Blume. Drummer Lizy Exell, bassist Rio Kai and guitarist Shirley Tetteh lock into an idiosyncratic groove as the brass section steadily develops the lead melody. Trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey and trombonist Rosie Turton immediately showcase their propensity for dynamic and conversational playing. The cohesion between these players is clearly visible as Exell freely plays around the time during her drum solo.

Tetteh’s guitar forms Nérija’s modulative foundation in place of a piano and augments the band’s layered rhythmic patterns. She fills out the Latin-tinged head of “Riverfest” with her choppy accents, then combines chordal syncopation and melodic intuition during her solo. Similarly, Kai provides vital harmony to the song while showing unprecedented expressiveness in his feature on the upright bass. This balance of calculation and artful embellishment allows the end to go off the rails into freeform without losing some semblance of cohesion.

The street-wise jazz-rock of “Last Straw” has a similar blend of uninhibited and airtight playing. Its suave bass line and skeletal guitar riffing plays a foil for tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia’s nimble phrasing and flavorful melodies—subverting the sheet-of-notes trope often associated with her instrument. There’s a few clever rhythm changes, like the reggaeton-esque beat switch under Maurice-Grey’s bombastic trumpet, but the band effortless returns to the original groove.

Smooth melodies glide over the constantly moving percussion of “Partner Girlfriend Lover.” These musicians know when to drop out entirely, leaving room for Tetteh’s boundary-pushing and dazzling runs. Even when one person is technically taking the limelight, the whole ensemble plays a vital role in the overall vibe. The crescendos of “Unbound” whisk you from rapturous alto lines to an overwhelming all of glorious noise. And yet, the musicians never lose sight of the landing strip, finding unexpected ways to serve the song.

“EU (Emotionally Unavailable)” sees guitar, bass and drumming tap into a more rockish groove for the transient call-and-response woodwinds and brass. Cassie Kinoshi takes an almost lyrical approach to her alto saxophone solo on this cut, soaring over the crashing beat. The same could be said about the flute solo, which balances out its more experimental tendencies with the personality of a human voice.

This propensity for free expression within accessible formats reaches its most dazzling on “Swift.” From dense syncopation and virtuosic melody comes dual saxophone lines interspersed with brass accents. Exell’s drum solo is as danceable as it is intense, using the full capacity of her drum kit before, during and after her moment. Maurice-Grey’s trumpet improvisation cycles with the synchronized saxophone riffing of Kinoshi and Garcia, achieving memorable hooks and unpredictable tangents in equal measure.

Blume excels in both eccentricity and catchiness. Exell settles into soft-spoken Afro-beat at the start of “Equanimous,” seamlessly moving from drum rims to washy cymbal percussion. Even as the trombone and guitar take up more sonic space, the real fun of this album comes from how all the musicians respond to each other. Rather than rigidly following the chords and tempo, Nérija delights in adapting the arrangement in accordance to the soloists whims. The result embeds the most fleeting of ideas in the mind while staying on its toes.

“Blume” and its sibling closing track, “Blume II,” embrace abstract soundscapes. No real beat gets in the way of abstract ideas as they bounce off each other in a beautiful tapestry of warped sonics. Both cuts recall the “mood music” of Pat Metheny with the inclusion of an angelic choir. This final puzzle piece solidifies Nérija as a magnificent bastion of U.K. jazz. Blume’s immaculate compositions are both catchy in their timeless foundations and entrancing in their contemporary irregularity.

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