By Theo Kent, Second Year English
Nubiyan Twist have returned to the thriving UK jazz scene with their most impressive album yet.
Freedom Fables is a characteristically eclectic exploration of the group’s influences. Glorious jazz melody meets the energy of Ghanaian highlife, while embracing neo-soul and dub. Nubiyan Twist’s genre-warping is nothing new, but even while the band reaches increasingly far-flung sonic boundaries, they maintain their own signature musical personality.
Nubiyan Twist is no stranger to collaboration, and their latest album is no exception. As their musical director Tom Excell noted, ‘when you collaborate, you always end up stronger than the sum of your parts’, and this is true in the case of Freedom Fables. Features include Highlife legend Pat Thomas, rapper and saxophonist Soweto Kinch, as well as Ego Ella May. The stand-out, however, is vocalist Cherise who features on three of the album’s nine tracks. The effortless power of her voice works perfectly with the band’s horn-led grooves.
The album opens with a bold, phat synth riff which remains bubbling underneath vibrantly produced track ‘Morning Light’. This starts the album, delving into an exploration of neo-soul led by Ria Moran’s exceptionally smooth vocals. The mood is set from this first track: great vocals, explosive sax solos and frenetic production will all be common themes.
The unconventional production continues onto ‘Tittle Tattle’, featuring Cherise. This song is perhaps the closest thing to a headbanger you should be able to expect from a group which is primarily tied to the genre of Jazz. In this particular track, Nubiyan Twist showcase their ability to combine bizarrely disparate musical strands to make something brilliant: Afro-beat-inspired poppy guitar accompanied by thrashy drumming and a sub-bass sound that wouldn’t be out of place in a jungle track. Amazingly, it comes together to create a song with a real sense of energy and attitude.
There are, however, cases where the genre-bending becomes slightly jarring; The penultimate track ‘24-7’ features singer Ego Ella May, whose voice is delicate and soulful, but the rest of the production ruins it with overly-ambitious energy. Equally, Soweto Kinch’s rap verse in the track ‘Buckle Up’ is impressive on its own, but it doesn’t seem to fit into its musical context. Hip-Hop and Jazz are so often complimentary, but Nubiyan Twist missed a trick in this case. Kinch redeems himself however, when we hear his saxophone solo in the same song.
By the time we hear the fifth track ‘Keeper’, Cherise is showing herself to be a leading force in the album. This song includes the best vocal performance, matched with an equally infectious piano-led hook, the likes of which the album could do with more of. It ends in an explosion of expansive, sprawling sound before dropping to a sensitive conclusion. Cherise wasn’t finished with us here however, as she makes her final appearance in ‘Flow’, which the band released as a single prior to the album’s release. They chose this track for good reason — it includes an incredibly punchy hookline which is propped-up by an infectious synth part and ever-present horns. In it you can hear influences like Erykah Badu and Hiatus Kaiyote in a track which veers the closest to pop the album gets.
When we reach the last song, ‘Wipe Away Tears’, it threatens to be similar to what we’ve heard before. The album is a little samey, but it’s no less entertaining for it. Besides, in a last spectacle of eclecticism, the final track launches into a flute-led jazz-funk groove which confounds any idea that the song is unoriginal.
By embracing collaboration, Nubiyan Twist have created an album which is entertaining from start to finish by drawing on different voices and styles. The kind of music on this album is best enjoyed live, so it’s a shame that the group won’t be able to share it with us in person yet. Still, the positivity and excitement of the album looks forward to a time when we can see music together again.
Correction: This article originally stated that Cherise, who features on three of 'Freedom Fables' tracks, was 'of early 2000s dance duo Booty Luv'. This is not the case and Epigram apologises for the inaccuracy.
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Have you listened to Nubiyan Twist's new album? What did you think?