|Jacob Collier at Cheltenham
Photo credit John Watson / © jazzcamera.co.uk
(Brooklyn Bowl, 12th November 2016. EFG London Jazz Festval. Review by Liam Izod)
The split screen YouTube videos that brought Jacob Collier to fame are feats of extraordinary talent and ambition. The byzantine arrangements, on which Collier plays every instrument and sings a choir’s worth of vocal parts, are astounding enough when delivered from his home studio in North London. So to attempt to recreate these arrangements live, seems near Icarus-like in aspiration. Yet in his solo show at the Brooklyn Bowl, Collier flies uninhibited to dizzying musical heights, delighting an audience attentive to his every note.
It is comforting at least for the mortals in the crowd, to see that pulling off this multi-dimensional music does not look easy, even for someone of Collier’s preternatural talent. He dashed from drums to keyboard to upright bass with the frenzy of someone trying to ensure all the elements of the Christmas dinner come together at the right time. On Don’t You Know, a composition originally performed with funk orchestra Snarky Puppy, Collier arrived with a funky bassline just as the groove felt close to boiling over into rhythmic madness.
The complex numbers dazzle, but the simpler tunes are enchanting. The neon bowling alleys of the Brooklyn Bowl were hushed like a symphony hall for the gospel cadences and Debussy-like piano figures of Hideaway and In the Real Early Morning. These pieces are performed largely at the grand piano, with Collier’s faultless falsetto unmediated by his MIT developed harmoniser device. Both compositions feature on Collier’s debut album In My Room, which is named for Brian Wilson’s Beach Boys’ tune, which Collier also included in his set, along with classics from Stevie Wonder, Burt Bacharach and Michael Jackson.
Like Wilson, Collier is a perfectionist with grand musical vision. His solo show essentially amounts to re-creating music as ambitious as Brian Wilson’s Smile live on stage, and the result is awe-inspiring, if bonkers. As Collier continues his musical odyssey, we might hope for some more organic moments, as well as more collaborations of the kind he undertook with the equally brilliant Becca Stevens earlier this year. But for now it is enough to delight in the kaleidoscopic grooves of a bewildering talent.