REVIEW: Makaya McCraven + Nubya Garcia – Chicago X London at EartH (2018 EFG LJF)

Makaya McCraven
Photo credit: Emile Holba for the EFG London Jazz Festival

Makaya McCraven + Nubya Garcia – Chicago X London
(EartH, Dalston, 24 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Gail Tasker)

“It’s nice to be playing in my hometown again”, Nubya Garcia announced to the 1,000-strong crowd at Dalston’s newest venue EartH on Saturday night. Despite being the unofficial queen of the London jazz scene, Garcia has been spending more and more time abroad, touring the likes of Croatia, Portugal, Australia, and even India. She’s also been kept busy with numerous projects, such as London-based spiritual jazz group Maisha, who just had their debut album launch on Thursday. With two sold-out releases of her solo project under her belt, the band are in high demand and were greeted with raucous cheers from the crowd.

The line-up was Charlie Stacey on keys, Daniel Casimir on double bass, and Benjamin Appiah on drums, a slightly different line-up from her EP When We Are with Stacey taking the place of Joe Armon-Jones and Appiah replacing Femi Koleoso. The set-list comprised of a mix of tunes from When We Are and 2017’s Nubya’s 5ive. Each player showcased their skills, with Stacey hammering out whacky solos on his Rhodes, and Appiah playing high-energy drum beats throughout.

The musicians seemed fresh and confident, despite certain problems with the sound. Casimir’s double bass was so loud that very little of the upper register came through, though this improved as the set went on. And whilst Appiah’s upbeat style of drumming meant playing each rhythmic division down to the eighth note, it would have been nice to have had some space to hear more of the keys and sax. A true highlight however was Garcia’s solo rubato introduction to Lost Kingdoms, which gave her a chance to showcase her versatility, tunefulness and incredible intensity and power in the upper registers. This tune received the biggest crowd reaction, understandably so from the angular, catchy main melodic riff. But also because it featured guitarist Shirley Tetteh, who brought her own world of groove to the proceedings.

The second half of the night featured American beat-maker and drummer Makaya Mcraven, who has also been receiving a lot of attention recently. His latest album Universal Beings was released only a few weeks back by Chicago label International Anthem and has received high critical acclaim from the UK. This is partly due to the host of UK talent featured in the credits: Shabaka Hutchings and Daniel Casimir to name but a few. His previous album was also a collaboration with the UK jazz scene and includes the likes of Theon Cross and Soweto Kinch. Mcraven’s band on Saturday however consisted of fellow Americans Irvin Pierce on saxophone, Greg Spero on keys, Matt Gold on guitar, and Junius Paul on vocals and electric bass.

The band played a mix of tunes from Universal Beings and another 2018 release, Where We Come From. Mcraven displayed a highly nuanced approach to the kit as he flowed from slow, drunken hip hop to faster, more free jazz. He also showed true spontaneity and variation: his light touch and constantly-changing beat pattern kept the audience enthralled and the rhythm section on their toes. His compositions also displayed a developed, through-composed style that proved especially exciting in the cross-rhythmic, slightly modal tune Atlantic Black. Another stand-out character was Gold on guitar, whose solos reached intense heights, and Paul, whose vocals doubled with the saxophone to produce a remarkable rendition of Tony Williams’ There Comes A Time.

The very fact that this double bill took place at a 1,000-capacity venue in Dalston shows not only how much jazz has transformed over the past decade, but how much London has as well. One can only hope that venues continue to accommodate and support the London jazz movement along its trajectory, so that it can reach ever-greater heights.

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