Nubya Garcia at Aragon Ballroom 3/5/22

Like most people, I learned about jazz by watching the 2016 almost-best-picture-winner La La Land and having it explained to me by Ryan Gosling. It began in flophouses, as I recall.

That’s not true. While jazz is a little bit of a blind spot for me overall, I know the big names and spent a good deal of time listening to them as I tried to expand my knowledge when I was younger. More recently I’ve seen a couple great shows, one a soloist who used loops and pedals to turn his bari sax into so much more, and another quintet that really made moving music, with Antonio Sanchez on drums. It’s not my first choice, but I certainly enjoy it when I listen.

And when it’s done well, jazz can be absolutely thrilling. Enter Nubya Garcia, charged with warming up the Khruangbin crowd at Aragon on a Saturday night in Chicago. That’s a big room that can hold up to 5,000 concertgoers. It was about three quarters full when she took the stage with her band, and she had the entire audience completely captivated.

Surrounded by a terrific band featuring Sam Jones on drums, Daniel Casimir on stand-up bass, and Jahari Stampley keys, Garcia was able to keep the crowd moving and shaking with her virtuosic saxophone skills. She kept it fun, dancing herself while the band laid down a funky groove. Seeing the group of musicians on stage having a blast makes the show so much more enjoyable for those watching in the audience.

Garcia, a Mercury Prize nominee and winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Instrumentalist Of The Year (2021), is touring in support of her latest album, the critically-acclaimed Source and its subsequent remix album. You can purchase both of those records on her Bandcamp page.