Review and pictures by John L Walters
Glynde Place, East Sussex UK
Radio stations, magazines, newspapers and other media outlets have long sought to create events that express their identity. It’s a way for the people who make the contents to encounter their listeners/readers directly, to create new content, to access new audiences, to generally “extend the brand”, as current branding parlance puts it. If you get it right, the event can be more successful than the media brand that spawned it, which is what happened with the Frieze Art Fair.
Jazz FM’s Love Supreme festival has built to around 20,000 attendees since it launched in July 2013. The first Love Supreme [here & here] quickly established a style that complements the DAB station’s chameleon-like music agenda, programming authentic jazz alongside more “accessible” crossover music – the kind of soul and blues that jazz fans are less likely to turn off. For Love Supreme – whose title evokes both John Coltrane’s towering 1965 album and a middleweight 1988 soul-jazz hit by Will Downing – this means programming both Troyka and Nile Rodgers (2013); both Christian McBride and Laura Mvula (2014); and both trumpet star Ambrose Akinmusire and funk pioneer Larry Graham for this year’s festival.
The event caters for people who want to dance to the Funky Sensation DJs into the small hours of the morning, and to what John Fordham called “edgy jazz” in his Guardian review [here]. The 2014 festival [review here] built nicely on the success of the first, but attracted criticism that the performing spaces were still too close together, which made it difficult for dynamically subtle acts to play when a loud band could be heard at full blast at the other end of the field.
For its third outing, Love Supreme appeared to have solved the sound “spill” problems by extending the site, and spreading out the three main stages: the Big Top and the Arena (both covered) and the Main Stage. But it also had to deal with the absence of its “patron saints” – Gregory Porter and Snarky Puppy. The programme appeased fans of the latter by including a set by Snarky Puppy keyboard player Bill Laurance on Sat 4 July, and showing the DVD of Sylva, the US band’s collaboration with the Metropole Orkest, in the Jazz Lounge tent.
Taylor McFerrin made a strong impression, with compositions and improvisations that involved vocal keyboard sampling and beatboxing, resulting in overlapping layers of mesmerising sounds. Drummer Marcus Gilmore supplied occasional (and sometime broken-beat) accompaniment to what was essentially a solo performance. McFerrin charmed the Arena crowd, and I found his tunes more approachable than on his somewhat opaque album Early Riser (Brainfeeder / Ninja Tune, 2014).
Later in the same tent, Dylan Howe’s Subterraneans performed their eloquent, often moody interpretations of David Bowie’s “Berlin period”, with dazzling piano by Ross Stanley, led from the back by drummer Howe, whose sensitivity to timbre always makes him a joy to hear in any context.
Terence Blanchard returned to Love Supreme with his new E-Collective to play music from Breathless (his latest Blue Note album), inspired in part by the “I can’t breathe” campaign/movement in the United States. Blanchard, who played Love Supreme 2013 with a more straight-ahead jazz group, seems to be channelling all his fusion heroes – Return To Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters, Miles Davis – in one handy package. The E- Collective has good tunes, clever electronics and solid ensemble playing, but it’s ultimately Blanchard’s peerless trumpet soloing that makes them a headline act.
Blanchard later explained (in conversation with author Richard Havers in the festival’s Jazz Lounge) that he grew up listening to funk bands and crossover artists such as Mandrill and Jimi Hendrix before becoming immersed in the jazz world, and he’s clearly relishing the chance to rock out with old friends such as bassist Donald Ramsey, who he’s known since their schooldays in New Orleans. However Blanchard hasn’t lost his reputation as a talent-spotter (a mantle possibly inherited from his old boss Art Blakey) – he recruited guitarist Charles Altura via YouTube, his first experiment with “online dating”.
Hugh Masekela was on terrific form with a boisterous band that played a strong repertoire of South African jazz including a heartfelt tribute to Miriam Makeba. The climax was his famous song Stimela, with a long build-up to a righteous finale that Masekela dramatised by making piston movements with his arms. To date Love Supreme (like Jazz FM itself) has mainly featured acts from the United States and the UK, so it was pleasing to see this elder statesman of World Jazz in such a prominent slot. It would be good to see more jazz from other parts of the world – including continental Europe and South America – in future festivals.
Jazz may be the sound of surprise, but for me, the nicest surprises came from the more borderline acts. Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion, a quartet with percussionist Abass Dodoo, bassist Alec Dankworth and muscular saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, really cooked. Baker looked frail, and needed a short break at one point, but returned to his kit to lead an undulating and magisterial version of his jazz instrumental Cyril Davies, dedicated to the influential late bluesman, and a little reminder that 1960s Brit-jazz and blues often had an African heartbeat. “Glad you liked that,” said Baker, rather touchingly, after the applause had died down, saying that it was his favourite of all the tunes he’d written.
The Young Pilgrims appeared as if from nowhere, spontaneously creating a performing space and delighting festival-goers with a New Orleans-inspired chant. The band is fronted by two athletic trombonists (always a bonus) and powered by an impressively funky (and equally impressively bearded) sousaphone player. [See here]
My final surprise came on Sunday evening – I had simply forgotten how good Van Morrison can be. He began gently with Close Enough For Jazz, accompanied by a swinging and supremely relaxed backing band. Song by song, Morrison got better and better, reminding everyone, young and old of his solid-gold repertoire: Brown Eyed Girl, Moondance, Gloria, and investing each tune with a bit of festival magic. Not jazz, not “not jazz”, but an entirely appropriate way to bring Love Supreme to a close.
* Due to circumstances beyond my control, I could attend only the third day of the festival.
Categories: Live review