REVIEW: Love Supreme Festival 2017 (1st of 4)

Herbie Hancock
Photo credit: Andy Sheppard lowlightphoto.co.uk


The first of two reports by John L. Walters from the Love Supreme Festival at Glynde Place, East Sussex. This one concerns events on Saturday 1 July.

Now in its fifth year, the Love Supreme festival has reached a certain maturity: it’s bigger than ever; it has become a dependable fixture on the festival circuit; and (for the first time) it has sold out in advance. More than a jazz festival, though still with plenty of jazz, Love Supreme serves up a fun experience in which grown men deck their beards in gold sparkles and all ages and genders wear feathered headdresses and beaded jackets.

Sons of Kemet’s percussive sound – a kind of world music from another galaxy – gave rise to the most comical outbreak of dad dancing, raving, frugging, tail-feather-shaking, ducking and weaving I’ve ever witnessed. The infectious riffs and tunes that Shabaka Hutchings dishes up with tuba player Theon Cross seemed to trigger an unconscious need for a knees-up seated deep in the British psyche. The band’s repertoire is thunderingly upbeat, with a nod to tune-based free jazz (Ayler, Cherry, etc.), a hint of dub reggae, a touch of rave, but nary a synth or guitar to be heard, which almost makes them a national treasure (remembering that Hutchings won a JazzFM award as UK Jazz Act of the Year).

Sons Of Kemet - Shabaka Hutchings and Theo Cross
Photo credit: Andy Sheppard lowlightphoto.co.uk

Relentless drummers Tom Skinner and Eddie Hick put the flam into flamboyant, and Cross should get a special prize for sheer stamina, since he is both bass and frontline. Cross’s playing – including a substantial cadenza – reminded us what a wonderfully expressive instrument the tuba can be, with a history that blows right back to the birth of jazz.

Lee Fields
Photo credit: Andy Sheppard lowlightphoto.co.uk
Lee Fields and The Expressions took us back to the immaculate conception of gospel-infused funk, with a set and a performing style simultaneously comforting and alarming for those of us old enough to remember this kind of music the first or second time round. If there’s a ‘godfather of soul’-shaped hole in the universe, Fields is doing his best to fill it. Most impressively, he’s doing it, not with cover versions or as a tribute act, but with fresh material in a well worn tradition.

I caught a few numbers by the talented teenage trio Zeñel, who were playing on the Bandstand stage programmed by local (Brighton) jazz club The Verdict. With an irrepressible drummer, trumpet, keyboards and a hard-working laptop, Zeñel is a band to watch out for, with a sound both precise and exuberant.

Michael Wollny
Photo credit: Andy Sheppard lowlightphoto.co.uk

There are not many greenfield festivals where German twentieth-century classical composers get a shout-out, but when Michael Wollny announced that his trio would play a tune by Paul Hindemith it provoked an enthusiastic ‘Yow!’ from someone in the Big Top crowd. The piece was the poetically named Rufe in der horchenden Nacht (which translates loosely as ‘Cry in the listening night’).

Wollny’s trio, with Eric Schaefer (drums) and Christian Weber (bass), wowed existing fans and made many new ones with an uncompromising set that demonstrated their consummate command of all the sounds and strategies open to the contemporary piano trio. This ranged from reflective tone poems via chattering jazz-rock to highly focused free-form, demonstrating their accomplished use of extended instrumental techniques – virutosic arco bass, strumming inside the piano, bowed cymbals and many other thrilling timbres. Yet everything they play relates back to the tunes and structures – there’s no noodling. Wollny has a composer’s gift for improvising and a dynamic lyricism often missing in contemporary trios. His unaccompanied solos are a treat – he’s the mad professor of intelligent European jazz.

Woolny can play what sounds like 12-tone ‘time, no changes’ jazz, surfing masterfully over Schaefer’s high-energy cymbals on the Hindemith. They play Alban Berg, too, plus tunes and arrangements by all three trio members. Wollny’s When The Sleeper Wakes is magisterial, with a hammering, two-fisted climax, and was followed by Guillaume de Machaut’s Lasse – a big theme with a monster bass part. Schaefer’s closing Gorilla Biscuit was a rhythmically (almost Snarkily) tricky number with a hint of EST, and a brilliant unison ensemble that provided the last word for this exemplary trio.

Herbie Hancock opened in Crossings territory, with splashy cymbals and synthesiser atmospheres, before settling into a groove with wah-wah guitar that briefly took us (for the umpteenth time at Love Supreme) back to the 1970s. For a while it felt as if Hancock was teasing us with little tastes of his repertoire, such as a tiny snatch of Butterfly. They launched a vocoder chant by guitarist Lionel Loueke that crashed awkwardly into the middle section of Chameleon (from Head Hunters), with hardly a hint of the famous bass riff.

Herbie Hancock, Vinnie Colaiuta, Lionel Loueke, James Genus and Terrace Martin,
Photo credit: Andy Sheppard lowlightphoto.co.uk

Then followed an enthusiastic version of Actual Proof with razor-sharp drumming from Vinnie Colaiuta and the beautiful, vocoder-led Come Running To You (which Hancock co-wrote with Allee Willis), a pop hit presented as a full-on jazz experience. We then heard a Mwandishi-like, work-in-progress magnum opus, possibly titled The Secret Source (or Sauce). Hancock was relaxed and in top form, hinting that he’d love to come back to Love Supreme. (Was he thinking enviously of that big Main Stage, then occupied by The Jacksons?)

‘We’re gonna reach back for a minute,’ he said, explaining they were about to combine an old tune with a new one by guitarist Lionel Loueke. The audience erupted with joy as soon as they realised the ‘old tune’ was Cantaloupe Island, given a Headhunters-style treatment in a medley that featured everyone – including Terrace Martin (alto and keyboards) and James Genus (bass) at full tilt. For the encore, Martin toyed with and then settled into a synth bass rendition of the famous Chameleon riff, and Hancock came back to the stage with a keytar to bring the house down.

LINKS: More of Andy Sheppard's photographs


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