Nala Sinephro
Photo: Mr Labembika / Courtesy of Terrorbird Media

Nala Sinephro’s First LP is One for the Pantheon of Cosmic Jazz Classics

Nala Sinephro’s Space 1.8 is minimalist, an understated electroacoustic gem perfect for late-night listening. It’s one for the pantheon of cosmic jazz classics.

Space 1​.​8
Nala Sinephro
Warp Records
3 September 2021

Nala Sinephro makes old-school cosmic jazz that hearkens back to the heyday of Pharaoh Sanders and Alice Coltrane. To call it “cosmic” is just not waxing poetic—her music is rich in overdubs and looping ambience, sounds that hum and glide over each other like they’re drifting in and out of orbit. Sure, much of the magic lies in the multilayered tracking here, but Nala has a special gift for layering her music in a way that’s never too showy or technical. It’s playful, spontaneous, and effortlessly free-floating.

Yet, for all its cosmic qualities, Nala Sinephro’s debut album is not an outward-looking record. This LP treads a thin line between spacious and intimate, hovering at the edge of space but never fully taking off. It doesn’t reach for the stars because it doesn’t aim for them—and that’s its strength. Space 1.8 is a minimal record, an understated electroacoustic gem that is perfect for late-night listening.

Many of the best moments here are the gentlest ones. “Space 4” opens with a lovely slice of rainy-day piano that gets so quiet it almost disappears. Then the drums enter, muted at first, and the whole track starts to build around a sax lead that arpeggiates in slow-motion, the keys ascending and descending over and over until the song ends.

“Space 5” may be the tenderest moment of all. It’s an ASMR-tinged little piece, its flickering rhythms overlaid with Nala’s pedal harp and a two-note bass that mimics that sound of a heartbeat. For a hot second, a voice comes in, a high-pitched little “woooaaah”, the only time there are any vocals on the record. For the most part, Space 1.8 is an album that doesn’t need singing—the music speaks for itself. Nala understands how to conjure emotion from the barest of ingredients and the slowest of rhythms. It’s a gift that not everyone has.

But Space 1.8 is not all warmth and atmosphere. Nala knows when to up the tempo. “Space 3” is a one-minute workout of modular noodlings, a flurry of submerged synths ricocheting over jazz drums and filter sweeps. “Space 6” gets into free jazz territory, pairing irregular sax trills with shaky, tottering hi-hats. The drums are particularly impressive here, often functioning as the album’s secret ingredient. They are performed by Eddie Hick, of Sons of Kemet fame. Hick’s rhythms rarely ever take center stage, but they provide a nice contrast to the album’s meditative atmospheres.

Space 1.8 features a whole host of collaborators, including Lyle Barton, James Mollison, Nubya Garcia, Shirley Tetteh, and Jake Long. But the star of the show is Nala, who recorded the whole thing at 22 (yes, just 22) and whose ability to fuse modular sounds with live instruments exceeds that of most experienced composers. The perfect example is the closer, “Space 8”, a 17-minute epic of harp, horns, and layered electronics. What makes the track really stand out is the way that Nala’s synthesizers echo the song’s jazz instruments—each synth note is a digitally-processed echo of the main sax lead, making the two sounds almost indistinguishable. If you’re not listening carefully, you might not even catch where the sax ends and the synth begins.

It’s this blurring of electro and acoustic that makes Space 1.8 such a special debut. Nala Sinephro certainly pays homage to the golden age of spiritual jazz, but her sonic range is unparalleled, and her vision is startlingly unique. Her first full-length album is one for the pantheon of cosmic jazz classics.

RATING 9 / 10