Nubya Garcia
Ottawa Jazz Festival
National Arts Centre, Fourth Stage
Saturday, June 29, 2019 – 4 p.m.

British saxophonist Nubya Garcia has a strong stage presence and an even stronger sound on tenor sax. In the UK, she's building quite the name for herself: she was named the Jazz FM Breakthrough Act of the Year Award and the Sky Arts Breakthrough Act of the Year Award in 2018, and the Jazz FM UK Jazz Act of the Year Award in 2019.

She brought her quartet with Taber Gable on piano and keys, Daniel Casimir on double bass, and Sam Jones on drums, to the 2019 Ottawa Jazz Festival. Their hour-long show showed off not only Garcia's kinetic playing, but also the breadth of her creativity and the close communication within her band.

Despite the concert being scheduled for late afternoon, the room was full and the audience expectant and attentive. Garcia began with “Fly Free”, from her latest album Nubya's 5ive, which opened with her relaxed tenor sax lines over a fine texture provided by piano, bass, and drums. She then explored the diverse facets of her theme: from thoughtful and unhurried, to an intense delving into the theme, back to delicate tracery with complementary solos from Gable and Casimir, and then building up again, but all the time retaining a consistent feel.

“Source” had a similarly wide dynamic and conceptual range, with Garcia initially playing tenderly and on the softer side – in contrast to Jones' hard and demanding drum style. She and the band then abruptly changed to playing dramatically and full-out, before suddenly quieting to near-silence, with Gable's chiming keyboard notes sounding as though they were rising from still water. An electronic gloss was then added to the music, with Garcia creating long, eloquent sax lines over those rhythms, before the piece ended with a repeated riff from the entire band.

You could guess that “Hold” was going to have a serious rhythmic component right from its opening, with Jones performing an extended and expressive drum solo. It was not an immediately comfortable piece, with disquieting sax lines and abrupt and percussive piano over fast and clicking drums, but it gradually developed a groove with Eastern European feel, and Garcia danced in place to the beat. Jones resumed his hard-edged drum solo, and then Garcia took over with almost frantic closing sax lines – to which the audience responded with very strong applause.

The quartet closed with an unrecorded and unreleased piece, “Pace”, which I think needed more work. Unlike the other compositions the quartet performed, this was more of a blowing exercise, which peaked too early and too often. I enjoyed how it opened, with long bass notes resounding around the hushed room followed by a raw-edged saxophone lament – but then it turned into a full-out sax attack of vibrating lines underlined by heavy drumming. The powerful sax lines came in crashing waves, with quieter and more thoughtful periods between, but it still felt too intense with too little respite.

This show demonstrated how Nubya Garcia could create engrossing music – without needing over-amplification to make her point. Particularly in her first three pieces, you could hear an understanding of the Coltranesque tradition (particularly his classic early 60s albums) but incorporating more modern styles as well. It was an energetic and energizing concert – and received strong applause, cheers, and a partial standing ovation in thanks.

Set List:

  1. Fly Free
  2. Source
  3. Hold
  4. Pace

Photos of this performance are not available because the Ottawa Jazz Festival denied's request for news media accreditation for founder, journalist and photojournalist Brett Delmage for the 9th consecutive year.