Sunday at Love Supreme 2016: Beats and Pieces Big Band, Femi Temowo/ Engines Orch, GoGo Penguin, Melody Gardot Burt Bacharach
(Glynde, E. Sussex, Review by Dan Bergsagel)
There’s nothing like a fast rock backline and nine horns to blast away the grogginesss of a night sleeping in a field, and Beats and Pieces Big Band were happy to oblige starting off Sunday in the Big Top. The unusual nature of Love Supreme was highlighted by the audible weirdness of hearing a jazz band address the audience with “Good morning”. Formed from the same soup of Manchester musicians as Riot Jazz (three horns representing and one from fellow brass band Young Pilgrims), Beats and Pieces marry raucous tight horn lines with a more aggressive rock sound, Ben Cottrell’s compositions and arrangements stretching from earnest colliery band to screeching alto solos. Their tender half-pace version of Let’s Dance was a sombre memorial success, and the second Bowie tribute of the weekend following Morcheeba’s cover of the same song.
Exhilarating big band compositions gave way to the more pensive work of Femi Temowo celebrating the 10th anniversary of his first solo record, Quiet Storm. Stories from his father in the Nigerian civil war and the wise words of his grandma kept a crowd enraptured as each song came with a careful back story and emotional link. All sung in Yoruba, Ore and Fela on Engu Radio are fantastic implementations of the unusual instrumental ensemble that is Engines Orchestra. Working with a mix of strings and horns, the neat arrangements were sensitively orchestrated to provide a real additional depth to a live show that so often might miss the full instrumental gamut of the record. While the strings provide depth, so much of Temowo’s music relies on the holding bass line, particularly on his intriguing take on the Beatles’ Blackbird, with the Fab Four re-imagined as a quartet from Lagos.
Gogo Penguin were less interested in stopping for a chat, the masters of the slow build launching into the opener of their new album Man Made Object. For a trio they are always surprisingly muscular, with anthemic stadium rock beats and shredded double bass high notes of One Percent interspersed with mellow rumbles and percussion shuffles of Murmuration and Branches Break. Gogo Penguin have reached an impressively broad church of fans, with the crowd sprawling out of the tent and onto the surrounding grass around – people nodding furiously at the front of the stage, or leaning against a wall calmly knitting.
The sound demons of the Big Top, which had been kept at bay throughout much of Sunday reared their ugly head for Melody Gardot’s set, a crowd growing impatient with a half hour delay caused by amplifier problems which were never truly resolved. On eventual arrival Gardot was charming as ever, her inter song patter straight-talking in a Tom Waits manner. Her rich voice pairing with sulking slow horn lines really is fantastic - a husky Nina Simone vibe - but it’s really on the ballads like Goodbye and Baby I’m a Foolthat she comes in to her own. It’s impossible not to be impressed by her excellent rhythm section, and party trick saxophonist Irwin Hall who can play an alto and tenor simultaneously. In a perhaps unnecessarily theatrical turn, as the end of the set neared she explained to the crowd that she’d truncate her regular set, leave the stage as if it was all over, and then return to the rapturous applause for the encore, all to not impinge on the next act’s time.
In previous years the sound control between different stages at Love Supreme has been referred to as an arms race, with different stages slowly edging the volume up to 11 to drown out their neighbours, particularly the deep bass rumble of the main stage. This year the god-like status of headliner Burt Bacharach temporarily put the problem to rest, with acts on at the same time being given their marching orders to keep the volume down to not ruin the mood. Electro-swing meets drum and bass group The Correspondents begrudgingly relented, relying on the frenetic, sweaty and genuinely high-quality entertainment of lead singer Ian Bruce dancing endlessly in front of a screen replaying multiple versions of himself.
Bacharach’s extensive repertoire closed out another successful year of diverse festival programming. The main stage faithful who’d pitched their chairs and picnic rugs for the day without moving had been treated to a slick crooning set from 30 year friends Claire Martin & Ray Gelato, a chart-scraping R&B performance from Kelis, and a funky ‘best of’ from Average White Band. Love Supreme is still described in shorthand as a Jazz Festival, but as ever, not as we know it!