REVIEW: Love Supreme Festival 2017 (4th of 4)

George Benson
Photo credit: Andy Sheppard - www.lowlightphoto.co.uk

The second of two reports by John L. Walters from the Love Supreme Festival at Glynde Place, East Sussex, UK. This one concerns events on Sunday 2 July.

For the final day of Love Supreme 2017 the sun shone constantly. There was only a light dusting of feathery clouds as the sun set and the moon rose over while George Benson sang Rod Temperton’s Give Me The Night to thousands of politely blissed out festival-goers. Earlier highlights included Charenée Wade, Miles Mosley, Christian Scott and Kamasi Washington.

After singing a warm, acoustic funk version of What is Hip (the classic Tower of Power song) Wade went straight into Gil Scott-Heron’s Home is Where the Hatred is. The remainder of her set was drawn from her album Offering (see my review). Her backing trio, piano, bass, drums, completely inhabits the new atmospheres and textures Wade created from the songs of Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson, with admirable internal balance and the maturity to know when to play very little. The result was subtle and slow-burning, with the added thrill of hearing Scott-Heron’s superb lyrics take centre stage.

Miles Mosley
Photo credit: Andy Sheppard - www.lowlightphoto.co.uk

Miles Mosley, in the Arena, is a likeable band-leader/frontperson, with a band drawn from the West Coast Get Down collective brought to prominence by Kamasi Washington’s The Epic. Mosley sings while playing a double bass with a chalkboard set into its upper right quadrant, displaying @milesmosley, his Twitter & Instagram handles.

With tunes such as Reap A Soul and Shadow of Doubt from his debut Uprising (see my review), Mosley has a rock-solid pop-soul repertoire that shows off the talents of a band with credible jazz chops and crowd-pleasing virtuosity. There was even a quick blast of Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra (continuing the German composer theme). Mosley introduced More Than This by telling us that his father was supportive of his songwriting, but that having spent so much money on his son’s lessons he’d quite like to hear a few more bass solos. Mosley recalled speeding down the highway to lessons with the bass neck stuck out of the window of his dad’s car.

So we got plenty of bass, and Mosley’s amped-up arco solos, particularly on a new track played in a duo with drummer Tony Austin (a side project known as BFI), were reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix at his most unhinged. Kamasi Washington and Ryan Porter guested with Mosley’s band for LA Won’t Bring You Down, his stirring paean to their collective home town, which Mosley kicked off by getting the crowd to chant ‘West / Coast! Get / Down!’ The crowd went wild for Washington’s rousing tenor solo. Mosley’s band also previewed the Spanish-tinged title track from Planetary Prince the new album by pianist Cameron Graves, continuing the ‘pass it on’ generosity with which Kamasi Washington previewed Mosley’s Abraham at 2016’s Love Supreme. (Graves and Mosley guested with Washington during his Main Stage gig an hour later, as Dan Bergsagel reported.)

Christiah Scott's band with Elena Pinderhughes
Photo credit: Andy Sheppard - www.lowlightphoto.co.uk

Meanwhile Christian Scott’s band was playing in the Big Top with a more self-consciously cerebral concept, sometimes mixing programmed beats with live drums, and with tunes such as the asymmetric West of the West – charmingly reminiscent of Ian Carr’s Nucleus. The beautifully nuanced frontline of Scott’s trumpet with Elena Pinderhughes’s flute gives the band a unique sound. "People are going to have a hard time remembering what the flute sounded like before her," said Scott in his band introductions. The loquacious Scott delivered an extended verbal portrait of each band member, and introduced The Last Cheetah with a touching story about his grandfather, Donald Harrison Sr. The tune comes from his ambitious Centennial Trilogy of albums [bandcamp link] that commemorate the centenary of jazz; Scott’s playing (and talking) revealed a deep feeling for music, life and the lessons of history.

By contrast, George Benson’s main stage performance was as light as a feather, the ideal way for the Love Supreme audience to wind down in the beautiful setting of Glynde Place. After a slightly breathless start, Benson hit the high notes with ease, and he played enough mellifluous jazz guitar to remind us what a superb player he’s always been. But his set was all about the hits. Like the Jacksons, Earth Wind and Fire, Grace Jones, Van Morrison (my 2013 overview at thejazzbreakfast) and other such time-honoured Love Supreme headliners, Benson has a repertoire to die for, and we were treated to a non-stop stream of hits, including Love X Love, Turn Your Love Around, Never Give Up on a Good Thing and Breezin’.

In fact Benson is so quintessentially smooth that you keep expecting Michael McDonald to pop up on backing vocals. I don’t mean ‘smooth jazz’ (though I guess Benson helped write that book), but the apotheosis of immaculately engineered studio pop in the late 1970s and early 80s when the cream of LA’s sessioneers and songwriters churned out solid gold hits for Benson and others. I found myself wishing there had been an episode of Yacht Rock (episodes here) featuring Benson, half of Toto, a scary Miles Davis and Rod Temperton. (The punchline would have been when Miles Smiles.) Benson’s Love Supreme proved he is the sultan of smooth.

This is also ineluctably sunny music; I wouldn’t have enjoyed it half as much at the Albert Hall. It was reminiscent of that moment in Jazz On A Summer’s Day when Louis Armstrong sings with Jack Teagarden, the adventurous jazz of their youth well behind them compared to the young lions roaring in the wings.

The UK's own Jazz On A Summer's Day?
Photo credit: Andy Sheppard - www.lowlightphoto.co.uk

And it was good to be reminded of the genius of the late Rod Temperton, who wrote Give Me The Night for Benson. It’s a perfectly constructed hit that honours all Benson’s unique qualities: a two-note jazz guitar lick is one of the song’s unshakeable hooks; there are scat vocals and guitar in unison; delectable backing vocals; a groove that’s just the right shade of funk; and of course Benson’s effortless light soul vocal.

Benson ended his set with On Broadway, a song whose Latin groove underpins a glorious melange of Tin Pan Alley and jazz-funk, jeans and pearls. The audience beamed back at Benson with the sheer sonic pleasure of it all as they wound down to the end of a perfect day – a perfect festival – and Gregory Porter.

LINKS: John’s report of the previous day.

Dan Bergsagel’s Love Supreme report.

Charlie Anderson's report focusing on artists from the local scene

Love Supreme website

2 comments:

  1. Is it possible that the organisers of 'Love Supreme' and by association JazzFM itself have lost the true meaning of Jazz? Both seem now to be more 'pop' (granted classic pop) providers rather than jazz. All over London we hear of Classic Jazz being played by the likes of various 'Hot Clubs', 'XYZ Stompers' and of course 'Kansas Smitty's', all of them playing melodic jazz rather than the duets for 'chalk on a blackboard and broken glass' that appear to be the norm these days. Why aren't these bands given more prominence at festivals? How about a full rampaging big band? Jools Holland was brilliant the last time I went to Love Supreme. Georgie Fame with Guy Barker's Big Band looks to be selling out at Ronnie Scotts and their residency is still a couple of months away. Call me a 'mouldy old fig' by all means.

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  2. John L. Walters wrote:

    Dear Clive Fleckner – It’s true that many of the headliners are popular (though rarely ‘classic pop’), and I enjoyed hearing a few numbers by Kansas Smitty’s House Band (whom Dan Bergsagel covered in his review for this site), who performed at least three times over the weekend.

    Personally, I would love to hear a ‘full rampaging big band’ of the calibre and originality of Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Jazz Warriors, Loose Tubes, Colin Towns’ Mask Orchestra, Beats & Pieces or the orchestras of Maria Schneider, Mike Gibbs and Carla Bley at Love Supreme – not to mention one of the great youth big bands – but that’s down to schedules and budgets.

    And as far as ‘melodic jazz’ goes, the West Coast Get Down and Snarky Puppy collectives (plus many of their European peers) are constant sources of tuneful, resonant new jazz compositions, packed with melodies that initiate great improvisations.

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