Nérija: the all-female septet shaking up the jazz scene
28 Nov 2016
Recently nominated for this year’s Jazz FM’s Breakthrough Act of the Year award, Nérija are a 7-piece London-based all-female jazz band – here to bring you fresh blends of jazz, soul, hip-hop and a few more genres you probably weren’t expecting. The septet is composed of trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey, trombonist Rosie Turton, saxophinists Cassie Kinoshi and Nubya Garcia, Shirley Tetteh on guitar, Inga Eichler on double bass and drummer Lizy Exell. As musicians, they naturally began to gravitate towards one another through casual jam sessions, gigging, university – and ultimately came to be after participating in ‘Tomorrow’s Warriors’, a London-based initiative that encourages young women to play jazz. From then, they decided to start finding their own gigs, and Nérija was born.
Since then, they have been working away composing and performing their music across the UK, and gradually gaining recognition from fans and critics in various jazz scenes. It’s likely you already spotted them on line-ups for Latitude, Brainchild, Manchester Jazz Festival, and Jazz Re:Fest, and just this September the band released their self-titled debut EP on Bandcamp.
The range of styles Nérija explore are wide-reaching, expansive even. In only five tracks, they leave enough room for what feels like an almost complete exploration of jazz. The EP travels from smooth to jittery, from bare-bone riffs to the almost chaotic layering of horns. The band play with pace and dynamics in a way that continually surprises – frequently changing direction, creating a chaos with intention. A controlled chaos skilfully produced to run seamlessly from beginning to end – it’s an EP that rolls off the tongue, showcasing the reaches of each musician’s individual talents.
“The EP travels from smooth to jittery, from bare-bone riffs to the almost chaotic layering of horns. The band play with pace and dynamics in a way that continually surprises – frequently changing direction, creating a chaos with intention.”
Apart from ‘For You’, all the tracks have been part of the band’s repertoire for close to two years, and each is credited to a different individual in the band. “Unique” and “fresh” are words quite often thrown around when referring to new music – but here they are truly deserved. In the bands own words, “how we individually play our written parts embodies each person’s character, contributing to what people have called a distinct sound.”
Their influences also reach quite far and wide, ranging from jazz legend Pharoah Saunders to contemporary gospel artist Fred Hammond, with a little bit of Ghanaian highlife, grime, afrobeat and hip-hop added to the mix, literally. The band recently put together a playlist for The Lonely Table, contributing songs that are currently influential to them.
It’s not difficult to hear tinges of these other genres complexed into their sound. Midway through the EP the track ‘Valleys’ struck me, delving suddenly into a beautiful horn section that made me think more of negro spirituals than anything else (on hearing the Fred Hammond influence, this now makes sense). This is brief however – and the track releases you straight into fast-paced finger-picking, an ensemble of celebration. The artistry the band are able to show in such a short space of time shows how unafraid they are of listening to their own originality, and that’s what leaves a lasting impression on me.
“The artistry the band are able to show in such a short space of time shows how unafraid they are of listening to their own originality, and that’s what leaves a lasting impression on me.”
They’re out here trailblazing, doing it in a field (and genre) infamous for its exclusion of women. I know the question of their own experiences as women working as musicians in these fields must be a tired one, but I ask anyway. They tell me, “It’s a difficult question to answer because we’ve all grown up around each other and have played together for years so we’re a really strong unit if you’re looking at us strictly as female musicians… There’s a huge imbalance in the industry, but we’ve grown up around a lot more female musicians than they’ve had in the past.”
Earlier this month, Nérija celebrated their EP launch at a sold out performance at Ray’s Jazz, Foyles and again at Cadogan Hall where they performed alongside David Murray, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Geri Allen – both as part of EFG London Jazz Festival. Having recently been named City Music Foundation Artists for 2016 – a programme dedicated to furthering the professional development of exciting musical talent – the future look promising for the collective.