16 September 2023 (gig)
Tomorrow’s Warriors are on a winning streak. Former students of this pioneering talent development organisation (set up to help aspiring young artists from diverse backgrounds) include Ezra Collective who have just taken home the Mercury Prize and tonight’s star, multi-award winning tenor saxophonist Nubya Garcia who joins the Nu Civilisation Orchestra to play Stan Getz’s seminal Jazz masterpiece, Focus. There’s a real sense of excitement around these young, London based artists who are for good reasons being credited with reinvigorating a new wave of danceable Jazz fusion that’s riding across the pond and beyond. But tonight’s performance is about the place where classical and Jazz music meet, the so called ‘third stream.’
Before we get to Getz, we are treated to two new ‘third stream’ pieces by Black British composers, commissioned and funded by Tomorrow’s Warriors. First up is ‘Ricochet’ by Peter Edwards, conducted by Scott Stroman. It’s no surprise to discover Edwards interest in composing film music as the work instantly transports us far from the Concert Hall at the Southbank into a rich landscape of shift-shaping sound. Drummer, Romarna Campbell drives the drama with impeccable ease and a glamorous stage-presence, not traditionally associated with the drum section (no offence intended).
‘Chemy’ by Oleta Haffner follows, conducted by Oleta herself who leaps onto the stage with a joyous twirl before getting down to business. There’s little sense of traditional hierarchy here with the majority of the 30 strong orchestra allowed to shine through solos that ripple through the string sections. It’s fluid and engaging, individual expression liberated in this ambitious, musical dance through a watery world.
There is a palpable sense of excitement for Nubya Garcia’s entrance in the second half. She’s been all over radio and TV in recent years and having headlined stages from The Royal Albert Hall to Glastonbury (2022) Garcia strides quietly but confidently onto stage, looking dazzling with long plaits swinging down to her waist, a power suit and glittering heels. If her style statement is loud, the shy smile that emerges from beneath her hat gives a hint of the subtlety this artist is capable of and a respectful silence descends on the concert hall.
Originally recorded in1961, Focus was a collaboration between heavy-weight saxophonist, Stan Getz and Eddie Sauter who a suite for a string orchestra and rhythm section consciously leaving space for Getz to improvise throughout. Rather than attempting to replicate’ Getz’s recording, Nubya Garcia also improvises the entirety of the work.
It feels almost effortless but it takes real musical rigour to improvise within a fixed string score. Nubya is not an indulgent player, allowing the music to tell it’s own story, touching the heart and then pulling away playfully. The seven sections of the piece fly by, starting with ‘I’m late, I’m late’ and ending on ‘A Summer Afternoon’. Her tone is also gorgeous, graduating from a rich chocolaty bass to barely perceptible ghosts that disappear into silence.
Over all too soon, we are treated to a repetition of the taut, rhythmic ‘Nightrider’ for an encore and it makes you realise this music is worthy of hearing again and again and again. It seems to sharpen the mind and let it fly, all at the same time. Rarely performed live, it was a treat for those lucky enough to get tickets but if the so called ‘third stream’ interests you or you’d like to hear yet another incarnation of this talented young saxophonist, there’s plenty more to discover about both.