Nubya Garcia review – music does the talking in triumphant comeback

<span>Photograph: Richard Saker/the Observer</span>
Photograph: Richard Saker/the Observer

Iggy Pop said recently that whenever he hears anyone moan that music isn’t as good as it used to be, he points them to Nubya Garcia. His description of her “fantastically advanced music that tugs at the heartstrings” refers to how the 30-year-old Londoner of Guyanese and Trinidadian descent infuses jazz with influences from the African and Caribbean diaspora and uses her tenor saxophone to channel a multitude of feelings and emotions.

Garcia does this so brilliantly that she doesn’t need to sing, but uses a vocal microphone to talk though. “Wow, we made it!” she begins, surveying the audience with the last 18 months in mind. This tour, like so many, was delayed by the pandemic, but the intervening period has seen a Mercury nomination for 2020’s Source and a sellout audience here, making her comeback feel triumphant. Each time she places her instrument to her lips, there is another wave of cheering.

Garcia remembers how she first stepped onstage nine years ago at the Royal Albert pub in Deptford and reflects on how lockdown led her to re-evaluate her life. The extended, more mournful bass introduction to the bustling Pace – originally written, pre-pandemic, about London – seems to reflect Covid’s impact on our speed and quality of life.

Upright bassist Daniel Casimir, brilliantly busy drummer Sam Jones and inventive Fender Rhodes keyboardist Joe Armon-Jones provide the perfect accompaniment for Garcia’s playing to run the spectrum from thoughtful melancholy to frenetically uplifting, her improvisational flights returning to a killer repeated phrase. Without words, titles such as The Message Continues or Stand With Each Other come loaded with meaning.

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When she isn’t blowing, Garcia makes an expressive dancer and an engaging raconteur, whether ruminating on the pandemic’s impact on the arts or, amusingly, mispronunciations of her name. “It’s Nub-ih-ya … Sometimes I wish I’d been called Jane. People always get that right!”

She goes reggae for Source, brings a taste of South America to central Leeds and is momentarily rendered speechless by the rapturous reception. “I have no words,” she chuckles. “That’s why I play music.”

• At Trinity Centre, Bristol, 6 November; then touring.