Nérija Blume at Village Underground

As published in Jazzwise 20 February 2020

Halfway through their European tour, ​Nérija​ played at the ​Village Underground​ in Shoreditch to a sold-out crowd that heard the band’s songs energised and expanded.

Bassist and vocalist ​Isobella Burnham​ opened the night. She used loops on some songs, but impressively accompanied herself in what sounded like both a bassist and guitarist playing behind velvety voice and sweet lyrics, both in a cover of Corinne Bailey Rae’s ‘Till it Happens To You’ and her own composition ‘Hold on to Your Dreams’, for which the audience sang the melody. Between songs, she jammed for several minutes, granting the appreciative audience a window into her creative imaginings seamlessly oscillating between funk and jazz.

Isobella Burnham

Nérija​ got right into it as soon as they took the stage; guitarist ​Shirley Tetteh​ led with the opening chords of ‘Where it Ends and Begins’, for alto saxophonist ​Cassie Kinoshi ​to plunge into a far-reaching, wailing solo. So continued the rest of the evening as they joyfully passed melodies among each other. Trombonist ​Rosie Turton​’s solos had more of a New Orleans jazz feel, trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey​’s were warm, Afro-beat wheeling, and tenor saxophonist ​Nubya Garcia ​built tension with cacophonous bebop in which she leapt across the full range of her horn.

From L-R: Rosie Turton, Cassie Kinoshi, Shirley Tetteh, Lizy Exell, Rio Kai, Sheila Maurice-Grey, Nubya Garcia

Double bassist ​Rio Kai​ said the tour was an opportunity for the musicians – each of whom are involved in a dizzying number of other projects – to reconnect and grow together. Nérija’s songs are written by various members of the band and reflect a multitude of genres. However, neither on their recordings nor live do they sound like a disparate collection, largely thanks to drummer ​Lizy Exell​’s adept shape-shifting. Her precise hits brought several of the songs to thrilling full stops on Tuesday night, including her own composition ‘Swift’, which she wrote for her father (she wryly noted while introducing it that neither her father nor the song were swift).

Tetteh had several driving jams throughout the night, including a plucky, driving rock in ‘Last Straw’ that gained momentum as she moved up a chord progression over Exell’s crashing cymbals. Her distinctive surf-rock guitar keeps ​Blume’s​ nature-inspired melodies grounded among the horns’ big-band sound. Nérija closed with ‘Riverfest,’ which once again showcased Tetteh’s versatility and lyricism, and captured the celebratory feeling of the septet’s entire set.