This post is part of a new blog-special in which we cover a topic in music (sub)culture and introduce you to some fascinating artists that are/were active in the respective culture.
This post’s topic is dedicated to four extraordinary women in the modern Jazz and Soul scene in the UK. In general, it seems that Jazz and Soul have really undergone some interesting transformations in the past 10 years in the UK. Many creative artists have stretched conventional genre-patterns by incorporating distinctive, often bass-heavy, features from HipHop/Rap/R&B and Electronics. This has created novel tunes with a fresh and modern appeal.
We want to connect you to four of our favourite artists from this scene and convey you our personal view on their music, in particular their latest albums. Hopefully, we can spark your interest to engage more in the modern UK Jazz and Soul scene to discover and support many of the other amazing artists.
Follow the Instagram channel Women in Jazz (advocated by Yazz Ahmed) to know more about the artists and support the efforts to fight gender imbalance in Jazz.
Nubya Garcia – Nubya’s 5ive
Nubya Garcia is a tenor saxophonist, based in London. Her style could be characterized as post-bop which is a modern interpretation of the classic bop/hard bop style, inspired by Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. This means that her music is quite fast-pace and vibrant, often comprising long solos which are mind-blowing. As much as I like it, I still think that this style can often be too overwhelming and loaded for the quite unexperienced Jazz listener. However, in the album Nubya’s 5ive, Nubya and her ensemble manage to ingeniously balance the virtuosic and dominant saxophone and fast drums with mellow piano and double-bass sounds.
You definitely don’t get bored while listening to this album. It is loaded with rhythm and attitude; Nubya really shows strong character on her saxophone. My favourite tracks are Lost Kingdoms (featuring the trumpetist Sheila Maurice-Grey from KOKOROKO) and Hold. Hold is particularly interesting because it features a tubaist, called Theon Cross, which I have encountered rarely in Jazz pieces. Although I’m not a huge fan of the tuba solo on this track, the tuba makes it overall sound kind of smoky and crude, which I like.
Also, I really like her style in general; her hair, the way she dresses and how she performs on stage. She is a cool woman.
An uplifting album to listen to when you are on the way.
Yazz Ahmed – Polyhymnia
Yazz Ahmed is a trumpetist and flugelhorn player, also based in London. Her music departs from sharp and rigorous sounds, such as Nubya’s, and creates a more melodic and mystic atmosphere. She seems to me like an avant-garde artist as she experiments quite a lot with electronic sounds and Middle Eastern instruments. You can get lost in her songs because you can hardly identify a structure or pattern with recurring chorus. But, for me that doesn’t make it hard to listen or confusing. It is just a more complex and immersive experience where you need to listen more carefully to realise the beauty of her compositions. She manages to gradually draw you into her profound and magical multi-instrumental spheres.
I saw her live in London where she played in a peculiar quartet consisting of her on the trumpet, a drummer, an E-guitarist and a beat-boxer/DJ. It was very experimental but fascinating; indeed avant-guard. Totally different to her original stuff on record. I really liked her stage presence; she has a kind of mysterious style, calm, subtle and focused. She just looks great.
The album Polyhymnia represents many aspects of my description of her music. It features many different instruments and is influenced by Middle Eastern music. My favourite tunes are Lahan al-Mansour, Ruby Bridges and Barbara.
An ideal album for calmer moments at home to ignite your inspiration.
Yazmin Lacey - Morning Matters
The EP is dedicated to anyone that’s ever struggled with getting up and out in the morning, for everyone doing work on themselves and trying to live better. - Yazmin Lacey
And how true is that! Yazmin Lacey’s latest EP Morning Matters creates soothing and at the same time motivating vibes. Sometimes soulful, sometimes swinging, this record is ideal for lazy afternoons with an espresso or an easy morning to start your day right.
It is a message to not let the shit, which life sometimes throws at you, get you down. And even when it’s miserable, thankful for the day to come
And at the same time, it is a hymn on the beautiful parts of life (kiss the sunshine with my eyes) and on self-reflection and independence. I'll never be a puppet on your strings
The record has several collaborators. Femi Koleoso and Ife Ogunjobi of the well-known Ezra Collective, to name two. Ogunjobi contributed beautiful and well dosed trumpet parts, to hear on the track Morning Matters.
Born in East London, Yazmin Lacey now lives in Nottingham.
Interestingly, she only saw music as a hobby next to her regular job at a children's charity at first, when later she got a place at Future Bubblers, a talent discovery and development idea, which motivated her to record some songs.
This might be an idealistic worldview. But, I sometimes feel that those who start making music just to have a good time or to express their everyday feelings, rather than to immediately strive for big success, often have an easier touch with their music and are able to convey their feelings in a more direct way.
Maria Chiara Argirò - Hidden Seas
Before I lose a single word about its music, I have to praise the beautiful cover of this album Hidden Seas by Maria Chiara Argirò. Mixing different designs techniques - drawings and photographs - in a collage, it tells the viewer a story by itself. The old photograph on the lowest layer with the old-fashioned dress, together with the cutout of the eyes from a seemingly newer photo and the leaves could tell us a story of rediscovering one’s origins.
I might be on the completely wrong track there, though. So I better stop overinterpreting the cover and get into the music.
The word immersive could have been invented for this record. Mixing all kinds of genres and styles, this album feels like a journey without any sense of time. After its last tone was played, it leaves the listener with a feeling similar to that of an extended meditation.
Argirò’s managed to create walls of sound that surround you by creating haunting and mysterious melodies sung by Leïla Martial, accompanied by virtuoso instrumentists and even digital beats. You can hear these soundspheres very impressively on Nautilus or Sea Song, my favourite track of the album.
The vocals act like an own instrument on the compositions. They are very rich in different styles and intonations and even include some kind of spoken-word on Watery Universe.
Maria Chiara Argirò is based in London and was born in Rome, Italy. Her musical journey started in Italy where she attended many workshops and played in different groups and ensembles, followed by a BA Jazz at Middlesex University. This seems to manifest and shine on this album.
Also, if you like the record, be sure to check out the remixes of two of the tracks on it, which just came out recently. Hidden Seas (Remixed) on Bandcamp