FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Love Supreme Jazz Festival 2014

Melt Yourself Down with Ruth Goller, bass guitar (right) at the 2014 Love Supreme Festival
Photo Credit: John L. Walters

Love Supreme Jazz Festival
(Glynde, West Sussex. 4th-6th July 2014. Round-up review and all pictures by by John L. Walters)

You have to hand it to Jazz FM (and partner Neapolitan Music) for having the gumption to stage a greenfield jazz festival in Sussex two years running and make each a success. This year’s attracted a big, good-natured and diverse crowd to a beautifully framed plot of land in the South Downs. Visitor figures were visibly higher (50 per cent according to the organisers) and the management of the event – security, parking, toilets, bars, food concessions, etc. – appeared to work more or less glitch-free.

Bands came on stage on time and they even left on time. Encores were few and far between, but hyper-enthusiastic DJ David Freeman (who presents the Blues and Boogie show on Jazz FM) coaxed genial bluesman Brooks Williams back for one more number. And when the outer throng of listeners for Gregory Porter started to drift away at the end of his ecstatic set, the inner core demanded an encore and got one.

Appropriately for a jazz station that maintains an admirably precarious balance between real jazz and the pleasantly jazzy, there were plenty of ‘tunes’. Incognito, led by Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick brought a grin to everyone’s face by blasting out Stevie Wonder songs. While grey rain clouds hung around like a bunch of meteorological hoodies, Incognito’s version of the perennially sunny Ronnie Laws’ anthem Always There seemed to hold off the threatened showers.

Omar (who had played a set the night before) jumped on stage to sing his hit There’s Nothing Like This with Courtney Pine’s band on Sunday. Lalah Hathaway, a soul artist with a vocal technique that’s rooted in jazz, was superb.

It wasn’t all funky big names. A creditable roster of Brit-based bands included the excellent Phronesis and Polar Bear – who still sound fresh and unexpected. From the United States came the inventive bands of bassist Derrick Hodge, Kris Bowers and Jaimeo Brown – a shimmering trio with Chris Sholar (guitar/electronics) and J. D. Allen (tenor).

Jamie Cullum charmed the Saturday night audience and defied the weather with a super-energetic sequence of familiar numbers in a performance style he’s made his own. Cullum’s music is a hybrid of ‘ching-ching’, keyboard-led singer-songwriter material and innovative reinventions. He plays Pharrell Williams’ Frontin’  with a jazz twist. He gives Cole Porter’s Love For Sale a broken-beat time-shift that is genuinely moving rather than calculated. Cullum, an eloquent advocate for jazz, has undoubtedly got the right dynamic for the Love Supreme audience.

Iona Thomas (harp) and Laura Mvula at the 2014 Love Supreme Festival
Photo Credit: John L. Walters

Laura Mvula (above) was a treat to witness, with a line-up that included violin, cello, bass, drums, samples and harp. Mvula’s repertoire and arrangements transcend genre, with a warm personality and a musicality that speaks to jazz fans.

If, like me, you regard Helen Mayhew and Mike Chadwick as the ventricles of Jazz FM’s beating heart, you would have detected their absence from Love Supreme’s programming. I would happily spend all day at a ‘Cutting Edge’ stage programmed by Chadwick, but to get that kind of content at Glynde you had to cherry-pick from all five stages, including the tiny Cocoface bandstand organised by The Verdict jazz club in Brighton. That’s where you could hear bands such as the Al Scott Quartet, whose fine flugel player Jack Kendon delivered a haunting version of Nardis. The Matua stage – like a club without a roof – provided a cool setting for the aforementioned Brooks Williams, Antonio Forcione, Michael Messer with tabla player Gurdain Raytt and J-Sonics, with its unfeasibly high proportion of jazz journalists.

However there was little of the captivating European jazz that Mayhew weaves so skilfully into her programme Dinner Jazz, nor the diverse, rumbustious World jazz that Chadwick plucks from all corners of the globe. On the plus side, we had Chadwick favourites Snarky Puppy on fine form, making an understandable - and justifiable - fuss of their Brit keyboard player Bill Laurance when they played his tune Ready Wednesday.

Snarky Puppy: Bill Laurance (left), Michael League (right) at the 2014 Love Supreme Festival
Photo Credit: John L. Walters


Snarky Puppy made better use of the main stage’s giant sound system than most of the bigger bands. Their live mix was loud and clear without being bombastic, unlike Soul II Soul and De La Soul – two acts with a higher proportion of ‘soul’ in their names than in their actual music.

High volume levels created unnecessary conflicts between bands who have to keep the volume high to stop the sound from a neighbouring stage (or from the other end of the site) disturbing their set. I felt sorry for bands in the Arena tent, half way between the Ronnie Scott’s Big Top and the main stage, who got the sound spill from two directions.

This wasn’t so much of an issue for Melt Yourself Down (top picture), whose musical aesthetic involves a non-stop barrage of honking saxes, over-the-top vocals and hammering drums held together by Ruth Goller’s highly focused bass guitar. (If Chris Morris and Charlie Brooker were to invent a jazz-punk pogo-dance combo for Nathan Barley Reloaded, they might look a bit like Melt Yourself Down. Though they wouldn’t sound as good.)

Takuya Kuroda at the 2014 Love Supreme Festival
Photo Credit: John L. Walters


Takuya Kuroda’s band, however, drew the short straw. Trumpeter Kuroda has a warm tone and a elegantly funky approach that reminded me of Eddie Henderson playing with Herbie Hancock. Yet when the band dropped out for Kuroda to play an echoplexed cadenza, he was immediately assailed by audio fall-out from Soul II Soul. The knock-on effect is a kind of ‘arms race’ as each band gets louder than the one before.

The American bands tended to take a more mature approach. Christian McBride made the Big Top feel like an intimate club: his sweet-toned bass prompted instant good vibes. ‘I know y’all familiar with the funk,’ said McBride, before launching into Who’s Making Love by the underrated Stax star Johnnie Taylor which effortlessly morphed into Michael Jackson’s Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground) and Stevie Wonder’s I Wish. There’s something deeply authentic about McBride that both relaxed and excited the crowd, and his version of Giant Steps was a masterclass in the art of the jazz trio.

John Scofield’s Überjam got it just right, too – the effortlessly inventive and melodic Scofield on lead guitar with bass, drums and brilliant rhythm guitarist Avi Bortnick. Their beautifully nuanced songs – with self-mocking names like Crack Dice and Boogie Stupid – were immediately appealing to head, heart and feet.

Gregory Porter at the 2014 Love Supreme Festival
Photo Credit: John L. Walters

Gregory Porter’s set – a highlight of Love Supreme 2013 – was as good as or better than last year, and refuted any anxiety that big greenfield festivals can’t handle musical light and shade. Porter’s own songs, including Be Good, On My Way To Harlem, Real Good Hands and Free sound like jazz classics with superior lyrics. Porter sings music for grown-ups that a kid could understand. He has a great band. He’s a genuine, once-in-a-generation, platinum-quality jazz star.

LINKS:

John L Walters reported on last year’s festival HERE and HERE

JLW reviews of John Scofield’s Überjam in 2002

Snarky Puppy at the 2012 LJF

Love Supreme Jazz Festival

1 comment:

  1. And excellent article. For me the highlight was Dave Holland's Prism. A blinding set.

    ReplyDelete