The debut full-length album by Britain's Nérija, 2019's Blume, features the female-led jazz ensemble on a set of original tunes that showcases their earthy brand of modern jazz. Together since 2016, Nérija was initially formed while the members were students in the London jazz initiative Tomorrow's Warriors. Included are trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey, trombonist Rosie Turton, saxophonists Cassie Kinoshi and Nubya Garcia, guitarist Shirley Tetteh, drummer Lizy Exell, and the band's sole male member, bassist Rio Kai. Together, they play a richly harmonious style of jazz that balances the swinging, straight-ahead hard bop of the Jazz Messengers with the late-'60s and early-'70s African jazz of trumpet icon Hugh Masekela. Cuts like the opening "Nascence" and the moody "Riverfest" contrast the group's warm horn leads with Tetteh's sparkling, rhythmically infectious guitar accents. Similarly, the driving "Last Straw" with its kinetic, Afro-beat pulse and angular, muted horn lines sounds like a Blue Note arrangement of an electronic dance track. Equally evocative, "EU (Emotionally Unavailable)" and "Unbound" have roiling, slow-burn funk grooves that bring to mind the '70s fusion and rare groove vibes of Detroit's Phil Ranelin and Marcus Belgrave. Though there are plenty of impressive solos here, Nérija have a strong group aesthetic and often tracks flow between deftly arranged ensemble passages, more open-ended solos, and expansively layered sections of group improv. However, what's particularly compelling about Nérija's take on cross-pollinated jazz is that it never sounds like they are trying to imitate one particular sound or era. Instead, they offer a set of contemporary tracks that feel connected to their diverse London roots.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar