Album Review : Nubiyan Twist – ‘Find Your Flame’: Pioneering global beats collective on scorching form for album number four.

The Breakdown

This is an absorbingly detailed, faultlessly sequenced new set from Nubiyan Twist with everything feeling in the right place.
Srut 8.9

Nubiyan Twist, the global beats collective lead by guitarist/producer Tom Excell, are in many ways pioneers of a contemporary big band sound. Front runners when it comes to forging afrobeat, jazz, soul, hip-hop, latin and dance, they’ve been defining their own space for almost a decade now while still managing to swerve the more formulaic approach to fusion. Three fine albums in, their self-titled debut in 2015, ‘Jungle Run’ in 2019 and much praised ‘Freedom Fables’ in 2021, might make maintaining the upward trajectory a steeper climb. But now comes album four ‘Find Your Flame’ out once again on their spiritual home Strut and with no signs of flagging momentum.

A key part of Nubiyan Twist’s élan though is that change and progression are bound together in their music. On ‘Find Your Flame’ the collective welcome new lead vocalist Aziza Jaye rather than primarily drawing on guest singers to enrich their sound. It’s a move that adds continuity to their songs’ narrative and sonically something earthier, with Jaye’s voice fine-tuned to an upbeat R n B snap and ripping dancehall energy. To get the drift try the effortless flow of Some Mi Stay as it trucks along to a soul-jazz swing. There’s lush, swirling hook, classic horn stabs and Jaye’s quick-step toasting to stir things up before the song winds down to that end of the night feel. The steely directness of Woman, shows the range of Jaye’s delivery, intense, indignant but soulful, a statement song framed in a classic big band arrangement that swaggers confidently from rap to pumping Trouble Funk horn blasts.

That tightness and intuition comes from a collective spirit that the group generate amongst themselves. As leader Tom Excell has explained ‘Find Your Flame’, like all Nubiyan Twist albums, maps the band’s individual and shared experiences or as he puts it more poetically represents “A catharsis for our struggles, yet a vessel for our joy”. On this album though, it feels like the messaging is more connected through songs that can be read both as deeply personal while at the same time speaking out for change. As well as the obvious grooviness of the music on ‘Find Your Flame’, that subtlety comes across as one of the album’s distinctive strengths.

Take the laid-back R n B calm of Battle Isn’t Over, which probes between the down beat and resolute in a pool of crooning New Orleans horn lines, a breezy trumpet solo and hopes of some silver lining amongst the daily grind of ‘I work, you work, we work’. Or catch the deep seeking downtempo of Reach My Soul where Jaye’s sensitive vocal, sometimes determined at others resigned, is given the space it needs in a finely pitched, uncluttered arrangement. What comes across on these tracks is a maturity in the song writing and musicianship that taps in directly to what is trying to be said. Such awareness drives the vibrant title track, a full tilt Congotronics flyer, anchored by rumbling bass, hurtling piano runs and punchy horn stabs. It’s a call out which stays with you.

Of course, Nubiyan Twist’s panoramic grasp of global beats remains impressive on ‘Find Your Flame’ as does their well measured use of collaborators. A fundamental part of the band’s approach, the new album takes similar steps when the time is right. Much lauded trombonist and producer corto.alto brings added juicy brass tones and a fluttering magic to the crisp nu-soul of You Don’t Know Me. The skittering afrobeat of Carry Me welcomes the venerable Seun Kuti to add gravitas as a vocal partner to an unphased Aziza Jaye, his presence seeming to urge the band to play more daringly on the edge. Then there’s the shimmering Lights Out, a number where the Twisters are joined by none other than Nile Rodgers for an airy, frictionless disco glide. A bubbling Thundercat bass line, those distinct slinky guitar chops and some funky Jay Kay phrasing may sound like a departure for the band but set within ‘Find Your Flame’s many shades it’s a natural part of the album’s continuum.

This is an absorbingly detailed, faultlessly sequenced new set from Nubiyan Twist with everything feeling in the right place. The sparkling broken beat ballad All The Same weaves guest Ria Morgan’s pure, almost delicate voice with band member Nick Richard’s rich Porter-esque tenor to arrive somewhere dreamy and illusive. To shake up any mid-tempo ambience the hefty Pray For Me, Part 1 and Part 2 are pivotal in the album’s success. Part 1 merges the grime side of hip-hop with suggestions of samba locomotion while NEONE The Wonderer as MC nods to Gil Scott-Heron with his lilting rhymes and spikey observations. Then for Part 2, regular compardre K.O.G. adds his surreal vocal flare and sinewy musicality to Pray For Me’s exuberant highlife meets township conclusion.

As if recognising the head-spinning, giddy ride that they have taken you on through ‘Find Your Flame‘, Excell and crew close with the refreshing simplicity of Slow Breath, sung by former Salif Keïta backing vocalist Mamani Keïta. An exquisitely resonant Malian ballad it serves not only as a chill out but as a reminder of Nubiyan Twist’s early influences as they set off on their afro-jazz roller coaster. Now they’ve reached album four there are no signs this band won’t carry on shining. ‘Find Your Flame’ has been crafted with polish, panache and no little love.

Get Your copy of ‘Find Your Flame‘ by Nubiyan Twist from your local record store or direct from Strut Records HERE

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