Festival Report: Love Supreme Festival Days 1 and 2

Photo Credit: John L Walters

Love Supreme Festival Days 1 and 2
(Glynde Place, Near Brighton. 5-6th July. Report by John L Walters)

Naming a festival after one of the modern era’s most influential jazz albums seemed odd at first, but there’s a thrill at seeing those familiar yellow and black road signs admonishing traffic around Lewes to turn off their SatNavs and follow their directions to ‘Love Supreme’.

The question remains how many of the musicians in Jazz FM’s ambitious new greenfield festival might follow the example of John Coltrane’s Impulse album A Love Supreme, or even quote the bass line in passing. It wasn’t long before a someone on Twitter posed the question: ‘Do you think Love Supreme is a jazz festival?’

After a day and a half, I’ve heard enough good jazz to know I’m glad to be here. And a fair bit of ‘not exactly jazz’, of varying quality, including some ‘non not jazz’ and ‘music that jazz fans enjoy’.

The opening evening – uncrowded and mellow – included spirited sets by The E.M.E and The Lost Organ Unit, followed by a lengthy ‘Funky Sensation’ DJ set with Chris Phillips and others. No sign, regretfully, of Helen Mayhew and Mike Chadwick, the DJs who do the most to keep the flame burning in Jazz FM’s engine rooms.

On day two, the first act on the main stage were Naturally 7, the ridiculously accomplished vocal group with an Anglo-American-Jamaican heritage whose superficial slickness frames a gospel-influenced approach to the jazz repertoire and beyond. They use their voices to imitate drums, bass, synths and horn sections, but there’s depth to what they do that reveals thorough immersion in the vocal culture of black music, from jazz to blues to doo-wop to Motown and funk – with some nice Michael Jackson references. And it was particularly heartening to hear their spirited interpretation of ‘An Englishman in New York’, Sting’s tribute to Quentin Crisp, the ‘stately homo of England.’

Naturally 7 were on the main stage, but the Love Supreme festival incorporates three other venues: Big Top, Arena, and a Bandstand featuring bands such as The Outlanders, Flash Mob Jazz (complete with Lindy-Hoppers) and the young Joymask, performing accomplished funk-jazz with a touch of Tower of Power and Maceo Parker. Saxophonist Alan Barnes, a member of the Bryan Ferry Orchestra, dropped in to guest with the One Hat Trio.

Alan Barnes with One Hat Trio at LoveSupreme Festival 2013
Photo Credit: John L Walters

There were occasional problems with sound leakage between the auditoriums. Every time Troyka played quietly in their Arena gig, they had to compete with the volume of Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, a genial soul review blasting from the main stage. Troyka’s solution: no more quiet moments, and a slow and potentially relaxed triplet-based blues soon escalated into a raging epic. The remainder of their set was a visceral, expertly played pounding, hocketing onslaught of wall-to-wall music from guitarist Chris Montague, drummer Joshua Blackmore and Kit Downes on keyboards – electrifying stuff, with echoes of Human Chain and Lifetime and an extra helping of early 21st century angst.

Troyka at Love Supreme Festival 2013
Photo Credit: John L Walters

The nine-piece US band Snarky Puppy – in the early evening slot in the Big Top – were everything the crowd wanted them to be and more. With superb musicianship, great arrangements, well constructed solos and effortless command of rock and funk rhythms, these eager young players are redefining fusion. Much like Troyka, they seem to have absorbed huge amounts of electric jazz from the past four decades, which they can reinterpret and reinvent as something new and fresh, and at thundering volume and speed. (‘Like the Brecker Bros at 78rpm,’ noted one festival veteran.) The partisan crowd knew the tunes and often sang along without prompting.

Snarky Puppy at Love Supreme Festival 2013
Photo Credit: John L Walters

The big treat of the first day was Chic featuring Nile Rodgers – not a jazz act at all, but a good example of a pop musician who is admired by jazz fans and musicians. Chic’s hits – ‘Everybody Dance’, ‘I Want Your Love’, ‘Freak Out’, and so on – still work on daytime jazz radio. Their lyrics also pay direct tribute to the time when jazz was the dominant form of dance music by quoting song titles such as ‘It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing’ and ‘Stomping at the Savoy’.

Chic with Nile Rodgers at Love Supreme Festival 2013
Photo Credit: John L Walters

Rodgers demonstrated his jazz cred by playing a bit of Wes Montgomery-style jazz guitar while the crew were soundchecking. In his ice-cream-white suit, he comes across as one of the nicest men in show business. The set only faltered when they played hits by artists with distinctive vocal styles: Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ and Diana Ross’s ‘I’m Coming Out’ came across as cover versions, albeit superior ones. Chic’s hits, by contrast, foreground the instrumentation, particularly Rodgers’ guitar and the incomparable bass lines of the late Bernard Edwards, Rodgers’ musical partner. By the time they played the era-defining ‘Good Times’, the stage had filled up with dancers from the audience, taking pictures of each other.

Nile Rodgers at Love Supreme Festival 2013
Photo Credit: John L Walters

The idea of a 1920s-style band, complete with banjo and Adrian Rollini-style bass sax playing interpretations of Roxy Music hits sounds like a Dada-inspired joke – like Senor Coconut’s mambo Kraftwerk. But the Bryan Ferry Orchestra started out surprisingly well, with an authentic-sounding instrumental that turned out to be ‘Virginia Plain’ (the abrupt stops are a feature of early jazz, after all) and a highly surreal reading of ‘Love is the Drug’ with a dinner-jacketed Ferry and four backing singers in sparkly, kinetic dresses.

Bryan Ferry Orchestra at Love Supreme Festival 2013
Photo Credit: John L Walters

However as soon as Ferry augmented his band with rock players (guitar, rock drum kit, etc.), the illusion vanished, and the scene was set for more conventionally rockist versions of Ferry’s hits, complete with tedious guitar solos.

Over in the Arena, The White Mink sessions were more fun, with vocal harmonies from the Speakeasy Three – a cheerfully anachronistic mash-up of popular jazz from the 20s to the 50s, including a vampish version of Peggy Lee’s ‘Why Don’t You Do Right?’
Speakeasy Three at Love Supreme Festival 2013
Photo Credit: John L Walters

Also mentioned in dispatches: Courtney Pine with steel pans and audience-participation EWI [electronic wind instrument]; Michael Kiwanuka, fresh from his brief appearance at Beck’s sheet-music-fed Song Reader at the Barbican; Three Trapped Tigers’ bombastic dancefloor prog; Go-Go Penguin’s youthful intensity; and bluesman Eric Bibb’s charm and understated musicality. Bibb is the ultimate festival performer, the kind of artist who’s at home at any festival, rain or shine.

Eric Bibb at Love Supreme Festival 2013
Photo Credit: John L Walters

And the forecast for day three is even hotter.

Categories: miscellaneous

2 replies »

  1. Surprisingly good first festival. Many fine varied artists. Plenty to eat and drink and no drunks falling over. Nice, well-mannered fans. Really enjoyable. Only criticism some of my favourite bands overlapped.

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