ROUND-UP: Love Supreme Festival 2018 (2)

L-R: William Henderson, Pharoah Sanders,
Oli Hayhurst, Gene Calderazzo
Photo credit and © Andy Sheppard / lowlightphoto.co.uk


Love Supreme 2018
(30 June–1 July 2018, Glynde Place East Sussex. Report by John L. Walters)

This is the second of our two reports on Love Supreme 2018. The first, by Dan Bergsagel, is HERE

There is nothing like a big successful jazz festival for reminding oneself (and the world at large) that jazz is an extraordinarily rich, resilient and chimerical music. That’s why I love re-watching the documentary Jazz On A Summer’s Day (1960), which reveals new details on every viewing, whatever your mood, age or gender. And it is why I have such fondness for Love Supreme at Glynde Place in Sussex, which I’ve attended every year since its tentative launch, five years ago, in 2013.

Even though many other genres derive in part from it, jazz is like no other form: in its expression, its living history, its education and in the example of its practitioners, whether old hands or neophytes. However much jazz absorbs the influence of other musics, it always gives back more than it takes.

Watching Beyond The Notes, Sophie Huber’s new full length movie documentary about the Blue Note record label, screened in Love Supreme’s Jazz Lounge, was a good starting point for the festival. The organisers could have happily shown it on a loop. Since Huber’s sympathetically constructed account of the label’s origins and legacy included interviews with musicians such as Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ambrose Akinmusire, Lionel Loueke, Robert Glasper and legendary engineer Rudy Van Gelder (1924-2016), there are many wise observations about art and life and the way that Blue Note encapsulated several aspects of US jazz for more than two decades. The label generated a treasure chest that could be cheerfully plundered (as hip-hop samples) or used for inspiration ever since. Drummer Kendrick Scott notes that Blue Note mainstay Art Blakey ‘was a university himself … he was a bandleader who trained other bandleaders.’

The label’s visual strengths – Reid Miles’s typography, Francis Wolf’s photography – are rarely mentioned, but Huber rhythmically sequences photo prints and LP covers in time to sublime tracks such as Shorter’s Speak No Evil. Don Was talks about encountering his first Blue Note album – Mode For Joe – when he was a teenager: ‘The Beatles looked cool; Hendrix looked cool; these guys looked cooler!’ You can see a trailer for Beyond The Notes HERE.

Elvis Costello on the Main Stage
Photo credit and © Andy Sheppard / lowlightphoto.co.uk

The Love Supreme site was bigger this year, and its layout dealt with earlier criticisms of sound leakage from stage to stage. Loosely speaking, the Bandstand showcased local and/or emerging bands (including Roy Hilton and Charlotte Glasson); the Arena tent housed the more adventurous acts (Rohey, Portico Quartet, Keyon Harrold); the Main Stage featured ‘big draw’ artists (Earth, Wind & Fire, Level 42, Elvis Costello); while the Big Top featured more established figures, including Mavis Staples and bona fide jazz legend Pharoah Sanders, a Saturday night highlight.

Sanders’ transatlantic quartet featured Oli Hayhurst (bass), Gene Calderazzo (drums) and superb pianist William Henderson, a long-term Sanders sideman. Their set included a heart-searing ballad (A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square), a triple-time modal classic (Olé) and a glorious reading of The Creator Has a Master Plan. Sanders, now 77, paces himself carefully, but I enjoyed his big, generous tenor sound – he is the epitome of a bandleader whose example makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Nick Bärtsch’s Ronin
Photo credit and © Andy Sheppard / lowlightphoto.co.uk


The precise, cerebral yet utterly funky systems jazz of Nick Bärtsch’s Ronin was well received and highly enjoyable. However the presence of this Swiss quartet also highlighted the paucity of musicians from mainland Europe at Love Supreme. (No doubt things will be better once the Brexit scandal has been dispatched into to the dustbin of history.) Ronin laid down plenty of what they call ‘ritual groove music’ (see AJ Dehany’s interview HERE) and what I once described as ‘jazz-infused minimalism’.

Following Ronin in the Big Top, Yazz Ahmed’s band was accomplished and confident, their restrained world jazz propelled by the drums of Nic ‘Spin Marvel’ France and percussionist Corrina Silvester. Ahmed’s trumpet-playing has a distinctive, almost ‘classical’ tone, as clear as a summer’s sky until she changes the climate with electronic effects. The penultimate number A Paradise In The Hold was based on a tune from her native Bahrain. There’s a touch of the ‘Lansdowne sound’ in Ahmed’s intelligent jazz compositions and ensemble timbres, echoing a moment when British jazz found its own voice, often by opening up to influences beyond the US.

The moving Denys Baptiste – Late Trane set picked up the expansive mood of the previous evening’s Pharoah Sanders gig, with songs such as Prayer For Peace and pianist Nikki Yeoh on exceptional form. I caught snatches of James Taylor’s organ-led jazz-funk, Tom Misch’s blue-eyed soul and a good helping of the huge-sounding trio of Dave Holland, Zakir Hussain and Chris Potter (covered in Dan Bergsagel’s review) before coaxing a few friends along to Jumoké Fashola’s Jazz Verse Jukebox in the new (and somewhat hidden) ‘Bands and Voices tent.

Poetry and music collaborations can be a risky business, but Fashola has created a clever format in which two guest poets present their work accompanied by Simon Wallace (piano), Neville Malcolm (bass) and Steve Taylor (drums). These were bookended by Fashola’s own poetry-related songs with the trio, including a setting of Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise and a mash-up of Tracy Chapman’s Talkin’ Bout A Revolution with Gil Scott-Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

Guest poets Shruti Chauhan and H. K. B. Finn read their poems to improvised accompaniment. Chauhan’s witty and moving observations of small moments and difficult situations elicited some delicate free-form playing from the musicians. Finn encouraged the band to settle on bass-led grooves – a 7/8 riff for Let Love Speak; acoustic Afrobeat for Sensual African Woman. Fashola returned to sing Wallace’s setting of a Fran Landesman poem, followed by a finale of Nina Simone’s Four Women featuring all the performers, with Chauhan and Finn ‘freestyling’ their verses.

Thanks to the warmth of Fashola’s personality, and the musical / literary chemistry of all involved, Jazz Verse Jukebox created a little piece of magic within the superstructure of Love Supreme. For the listeners in the tent, it was a privilege to share an exquisite point in time when this big, brassy festival slimmed down to the dimensions of an intimate arts club.

Steve Winwood
Photo credit and © Andy Sheppard / lowlightphoto.co.uk


As for Steve Winwood, it was cheering to see a pop star sounding completely at home at Love Supreme. Winwood’s impassioned performances of songs such as Can’t Find My Way Home and Dear Mr Fantasy are infused with the jazz and blues influences that were in the air (and possibly in the water supply) when Winwood started out as an impossibly talented teenage prodigy. More than half a century later, his guitar riffs and thrilling Hammond organ swells sound as authentic as ever, complemented by a golden, soulful voice. There were no surprises – just a great band of troopers (including jazz saxophonist Paul Booth) playing stirring hit after hit in the Big Top.

EarthWind and Fire
Photo credit and © Andy Sheppard / lowlightphoto.co.uk


‘Hit after hit’ also applies to Earth, Wind and Fire, who commanded the main stage on Sunday evening and filled it with exuberant performance style, effortless musicianship and feelgood grooves. Love Supreme 2018 featured many shades of jazz-funk, but no other bands could match EW&F’s solid gold repertoire, their expertly mixed sound, their lightness and sureness of touch. I was a long way from the stage, so I’m not sure whether a newspaper reviewer was correct in calling them ‘confused-looking’ (was that a euphemism for ‘old’?) but there was no confusion or lack of conviction in the way they performed songs including Shining Star, Reasons, Fantasy, Let’s Groove, September, In The Stone, the ravishing After The Love Has Gone and their masterful Beatles reinvention Got To Get You Into My Life.

Nor could I tell whether lead singer Philip Bailey still sipped ginger tea between songs (see my Guardian review from 2004), but he sang like a jazz angel, took over Maurice White’s old Kalimba (thumb piano) role with aplomb, and occasionally delegated vocal duties to his son, Philip Bailey Jr. This version of the band has been going for a while, with original 1970s members Verdine White, Ralph Johnson and Bailey; Earth, Wind and Fire is a finely tuned vintage hit machine with jazz rippling through its carburettors.

However much you trek between the tents, funfair rides and food vans of the Love Supreme site, you always end up missing acts that all your friends are raving about (such as Nubya Garcia, or Mavis Staples) and stumbling across something new, like Jonny Mansfield’s Elftet (see Dan’s review) with vocalist Liselotte Östblom. After hearing Mansfield playing vibraphone in trombonist Rory Ingham’s excellent quartet, I had to check out Elftet, whose beautifully scored repertoire is neither modish nor dumbed down – and might one day give Snarky Puppy a run for their money.

It’s so heartening to see such a relaxed, good-natured and diverse collection of people enjoying jazz and jazz-influenced music in the sunshine. Love Supreme’s growth and success means space for many strands and genres and generations of music, from the deeply rooted jazz tree and all its branches.

3 comments:

  1. Great review John. It was exactly that.

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  2. I don't know your location in the Arena John, but would question E,W&F's 'expertly mixed sound' as the only vocals we had on stage right of the audience was Philip Bailey's SON and the other energetic fella with the dreads, you could hear them perfectly. How the sound engineer could fail to have neither Philip Bailey's nor Ralph Johnson's vocals right out front of the (well mixed) musicians was a travesty. It was as though they were virtually on mute the whole show. P Bailey must have known something was amiss as he purposely changed his mic a number of times. Lucky we all knew the words! Shame.

    Maybe not 'lost', but I do agree that Ralph Johnson does look disinterested while on stage. Not just this show, but you never see him smile up there. The rest of the band do - all except him. Yet off stage photos and video all appear to show he can crack a cheshire and at least look like he's enjoying himself.

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  3. I realise there were many acts to cover during this 3 day festival but it is a great pity that no mention was made in both your reviews of one of the best concerts that I and many others thought stood out at the Love Supreme Festival - Orphy Robinson’s Allstars tribute to the late Bobby Hutcherson. It was 90 mins of sheer jazz artistry with some of the biggest names on both the UK and international jazz scene with arrangements that even Bobby himself would have loved! Orphy Robinson MBE, Tim Garland, Tony Kofi, Byron Wallen, Alec Dankworth, Robert Mitchell, Mark Mondesir and Rowland Sutherland have been consistently at the top both in terms of performance and education since the 80’s and most definitely paved the way for the younger generation of musicians coming through now who are gaining their own success and recognition.

    Perhaps the lack of mention was due to the early timing of their performance in the Big Top which was odd for a world class jazz act in a jazz festival but it was definitely one of the jazz highlights of this festival and it was great to see the tent filled to capacity with young and old, listening, dancing and enjoying this fine group of musicians.

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