By Lottie Brazier
There’s a growing experimental and daring jazz scene in London right now. You might have heard of new names like Sons of Kemet and Shabaka Hutchings. Among them is Nala Sinephro, who uses the harp to bring to life her carefully woven instrumental pieces. But aside from the American spiritual jazz icon Alice Coltrane, the harp isn’t an instrument that has been explored much in the genre up until now. This is what makes the Caribbean-Belgian musician Nala Sinephro – who fuses analogue synth, field recording-based arrangements with her pedal harp – so fascinating, and groundbreaking an artist. Her debut album Space 1.8, richly layered with cricket and birdsong samples, is perfect for the winter evenings now approaching us.
After a busy day, I found the opening track ‘Space 1’ lifting me into a place of calm, but also awe. There’s a cocooning warmth to these meticulously crafted songs; Sinephro masters the ability to create detailed arrangements that are miraculously subtle, like a web. Like all well-crafted ambient music, Space 1.8 has a structure that you have to really listen out for. It is worth taking the time to listen to each track several times, as they are layered with nuance and depth. This lightness of touch is built from Sinephro’s deep knowledge of timbre and tonality together with emotional, soulful harp phrasings. It is clear that a lot of work has gone into Space 1.8, but it doesn’t feel laboured over; the delicacy of it remains intact. Instruments fade in and out of the picture quite gracefully. For example, a synth part may suddenly take the spotlight in the piece, before fading out into a new section which introduces sprinklings of harp melody.
Nala Sinephro carries on some of the smooth jazz traditions of label ECM, the famous German label, frequently specialising in soothing, ambient inspired instrumentals. And like the experimental jazz composer Alice Coltrane – who also wrote grand epic jazz landscapes for harp – Nala Sinephro shows a deep interest in space, and healing energies. As Sinephro describes, the album also draws from her own personal interest in physics, and the idea that sound drives matter. Despite these abstract reference points, the world that Sinephro creates in her work feels very much like a habitable planet. The calm self-described “medicinal” quality of the songs here could be the result of the album being born during Sinephro’s time recovering from an illness. This is reflected in moments of intensity towards the album’s middle section, where James Mollison’s saxophone takes the centre stage and provides a more forceful energy amidst Sinephro’s meditations.
As a producer who is entirely in sync with the process of producing and arranging, there’s nothing jarring here about how Sinephro’s debut is put together. Although Space 1.8 is very much Sinephro’s own vision, the album is the result of collaboration with many key players from London’s ever growing jazz scene. Space 1.8 features appearances from Sons of Kemet (Best Jazz Act at 2013 MOBO Awards) percussionist Edward Wakili-Hick; Tomorrow’s Warriors guitarist Shirley Tetteh; drummer and bandleader of Maisha Jake Long, and producer/session double bassist Rudi Creswick.
Each artist is given their respective space on the track, leaving room for each of their instrument’s “voice” to stand out in their own regards. This means that although Space 1.8 is very much Sinephro’s production overall in terms of the sound-world, she lets the talents of her session musicians shine through as well.
Even though Nala Sinephro’s career has only just taken flight via her debut, there are still many other avenues for keen listeners of her work to explore. There’s very little about this mysterious musician online, so here are a couple of tips. Listeners can check out her excellent remix of fellow London jazz scenester Nubya Garcia’s track ‘Together Is A Beautiful Place To Be’. With the help of Sinephro’s own production skills and knack for electronic effects, Garcia’s saxophone flutters and echoes over the composition, giving it a deeply layered and more ambient electronic inspired feel. Listeners looking to dive even more deeply can listen to Nala Sinephro’s live album Live at The Real World Studios with Edward Wakili-Hick & Dwayne Kilvington. Here, Sinephro carefully recreates much of the softness of her record. Expect to find those lush modular synth textures; Sinephro does not limit herself to organic textures here. But she shows off the dextrousness of her playing and arrangement, with more energy and tension in the percussion. It is clear that Nala Sinephro is a rising star of the already exciting scene that she is a part of. I can recommend that you catch her live so that you do not miss the start of her journey.
This article was published with the support of Liveurope.
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