|Lacuna. Photo credit: Alasdair Harriss|
(Ryan’s N16. 15th July 2016. Review by Liam Izod)
On the playlist prior to the show at Ryan’s N16 in trendy Stoke Newington, Tower of Power preach – “Sweet soul music, that’s the best”. Lacuna prove devotees of ToP’s teachings, though their style is not ‘Soul with a capital S’ but neo-soul. The denomination pioneered in the 1990s by artists such as Erykah Badu and D’Angelo, is currently undergoing a resurgence. Bands like Hiatus Kaiyote and Native Dancer have taken the sub-genre deeper into jazz territory, and Lacuna aim to continue the soul searching.
Comprised of a quintet of Durham University Students, Lacuna demonstrate they have done their research, serving up a series of soul classics from Al Green to Amy Winehouse. Each number is arranged with the lurching grooves and lush electronic accompaniment characteristic of the neo-soul new-wavers. It is a treatment that serves the newer numbers better than the classics however, with Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody and Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together losing some of their emotional punch when refracted through the chilled re-harmonisations.
The catalogue of covers could have ended up lending Lacuna the air of an experimental wedding band, but Laura Paul’s vocals elevate them, her voice capable of tastefully melismatic runs worthy of Esperanza Spalding. Paul is not the only standout member. With his Michael Gove glasses, guitarist Ollie Farley looks more Parliament than Funkadelic, but he proves a worthy Minister of Groove. His playing orbits artfully around the arrangements, picking out angular funky phrases as if receiving signals from George Clinton’s Mothership.
Lacuna met as members of Durham University Big Band, and they are still undergoing graduation towards a group with their own identity and direction. They might take inspiration from bands like Glasgow’s Fat Suit, who began life as a Snarky Puppy tribute band but now boast fearless original compositions. Lacuna deliver a fresh reworking of Round Midnight late in their second set that suggests they could emulate the Glaswegian’s example. It is heartening in any case to see a young crowd getting down to Thelonious Monk, and to have found more musicians dedicated to addressing the lacunas among jazz audiences in the U.K.