Vital, breezy jazz that draws on dub, electrosoul, and styles from around the world, the music London’s Nubiyan Twist make always feels like a breath of fresh air. Freedom Fables, the ensemble’s latest, has a particularly welcome warmth to its weekend grooves. It’s studded with capable guest vocalists, too, around whom Nubiyan Twist shifts shape just a little every time. Around Pat Thomas on “Ma Wonka”, the band burst into highlife. When Ego Ella May serenades us on “24/7”, they glide into chill-yet-brassy soul.
Nubiyan Twist’s expertise at finding the flow and going with it is possible only because they are so skilled at setting the tone, anchoring the album in an atmosphere of constant elation. Ria Moran’s smooth “Morning Light” lays a smooth, midtempo foundation that ends with a breakdown of syncopated beats that pick up the energy for playful (if lyrically cloying) “Tittle Tattle”, featuring Cherise’s exuberant jazz vocals over nimble horns. Swaying “Ma Wonka” brings classic Afro-Latin sounds to the mix with the help of 1970s Ghanaian pop icon Pat Thomas. Perhaps the most finely crafted piece is “Buckle Up”, which sees the band’s own Nick Richards crooning sleekly over starry melody. Rapper and saxophonist Soweto Kinch joins in with a verse and an invigorating horn solo.
Cherise returns on heated “Keeper”, her vocals an especially potent piece of a densely textured frenzy. K.O.G. and his Zongo Band bring Ghanaian and Jamaican funk flows to “If I Know”, the album’s brightest and poppiest track. The final three tracks offer mellower contrast: old-school R&B and cosmic electronics mark Cherise’s last appearance on “Flow”, polyrhythms and staccato brass frame Ego Ella May’s velvet voice on “24-7”, and Nick Richards once again steps in for lead vocals on “Wipe Away Tears”, an impassioned track that shows the band at its tightest.
The potpourri that is so key to Nubiyan Twist’s style makes for an interestingly effective grounding on Freedom Fables, an album so vital and energetic that it sounds less like a studio creation than a particularly flawless live show. It’s a high-end event, too, even the most playful and laid-back melodies resoundingly luxurious for their lush instrumentation. Nubiyan Twist seems to be where a wide range of consummate musical professionals go to have a good time, and Freedom Fables feels like one of their most painstakingly planned soirées.
Amid the glitz and glamour of fresh neo-soul chanteuses and contemporary highlife stars and the work of being an endlessly versatile band, Nubiyan Twist also take Freedom Fables as a chance to maintain a sense of fun, of engagement among the ensemble and with their invisible audience, that is as important as the objectively high quality of the sonics. It’s easy to sway along without trying, to get caught up in Nubiyan Twist’s well-plotted, arc and find yourself transported to this imaginary showcase. These are songs catchy enough to stick with you and so elevated in terms of production that you might not even mind it when they do.