Live reviews

FESTIVAL ROUND-UP : Love Supreme 2018 (1)

Zakir Hussein, Dave Holland, Chris Potter
Photo credit and © Andy Sheppard /

Love Supreme Festival
(Glynde, E. Sussex. 29 June -1 July 2018. Festival Round-Up by Dan Bergsagel. Photos by Andy Sheppard)

This is the first of our two round-ups of Love Supreme 2018. John L Walters’ piece, covering different acts, is HERE.

There are towels and deckchairs strewn everywhere. There’s not a cloud in the sky, and in the unbelievable heat people have decided underwear is acceptable public wear. Every spot of shade (trees, bushes, signposts) is filled with a seething mass of humanity. This hot mess isn’t Brighton Beach; this is Love Supreme 2018.

Into its sixth year the festival continues to grow and mature. It’s certainly busier – with space at short supply and numbers looking to be up, particularly on R&B Sunday. Friday night is now an event not an afterthought, with enough live music (bands like the Brass Funkeys bringing an excitable brand of brass band with rich arrangements) and DJs around to keep a good number busy.

There’s a more varied programme, with the success of last year’s Jazz In the Round late night gigs seeing them expand into their own tent from their previous location on the side of a bar, and with daytime sets taking place as well; from spoken word (enthralling Caribbean stories from Malika Booker) to high-energy cabaret and dance troupes (The Locksmiths managed to drag all but the grumpiest audience members into an impromptu dance to Michael Jackson, Roy Ayers and co).

It’s more varied demographically, too. The welcoming mix of age, gender and race continues to highlight the shortcomings of more traditional jazz settings. This is best viewed at the DJ sets: Eric Lau at Blue in Green where people of all ages scuffle, walk into tree branches, and storm to the dancefloor whenever a Bowie song is played; or late night for Craig Charles, who played a crowd-pleasing (largely Stevie Wonder) set with light entertainment from a range of electric fans being continuously brought on stage to cool him down.

More importantly Love Supreme is still doing a lot of the old things right, one of which is providing a real opportunity for young bands to play to a more diverse and mainstream audience.

Rob Luft’s impromptu trio of friends and flatmates played through Zimbawean melodies and long guitar solos at In The Round, and an eight-piece version of Fat Suit continued to develop their rock backed fusion sounds sitting between Metronomy and Snarky Puppy.

The Jonny Mansfield Elftet (an eleven-piece, for the uninitiated) brought ethereal sounds and cinematic sweeps with the eleven formed of fully-functional horn and string sections as well as Mansfield himself on vibes and stage patter (“You wouldn’t believe what ladybirds get up to these days”), with Tom Smith and George Millard on alto and tenor impressing in particular. On the same Bandstand stage organised by Verdict Jazz Brighton saw Pete Hill’s comparatively small quintet play a neat set of drum-led originals and covers (Nate Smith and Bon Iver amongst them).

* * *

George Clinton Parliament Funkadelic
Photo credit and © Andy Sheppard /

The festival is getting busier and busier partly as they still know how to bring in the big American superstars. Although those expecting a space-odyssey funk extravaganza from George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic where presented with a bewildering, chewed-up and very fuzzy imitation of the mid-2000s South Wales hardcore scene, only vaguely rescued at the end with short snippets of P-Funk classics and the suitably surreal arrival of Sir Nose.

While George Clinton often looked to be lost on stage waving for help, Earth Wind and Fire fared significantly better by (a) wearing natty co-ordinating suits, and (b) playing their much-loved hit machine back catalogue without doing a Dylan and rendering it all completely unrecognisable (for real review see JLW), as did Mavis Staples by continuing to be at the top of her game.

The challenging(*) alternative-headline-act-for-EWF spot was filled by fresh multi-instrumentalists Moonchild, hailing from LA but represented by Brighton powerhouse Tru-Thoughts. Presenting on stage face on almost like Kraftwerk, a singer flanked by two synth players, the band members make up for numbers with nifty loops and an array of saxophones, trumpets and flutes to hand to swap in and out at will. With Amber Navran’s warm, encouraging vocals and the careful tight loops being built, this is a very different US sound to P-Funk.

Lalah Hathaway
Photo credit and © Andy Sheppard /

Generally the US acts are consummate show-people. Lalah Hathaway was no exception, with DJ Spark getting the crowd warmed up before she entered the stage with some 70s hits and boxing-match style references to the number of Grammy’s she’s won. It was a slickly produced set of smooth R&B, sung over a cutback bands set-up.

Dave Holland, Chris Potter and Zakir Hussain play things rather differently. They slip into the gig quietly, almost like a soundcheck, but build into an enthralling layered sound. Potter is one of the most exciting tenor players around, but the understanding between Holland’s bass and Hussain’s tablas laid a perfect foundation for fierce, range-stretching improvisation. For famous individuals this is a collective effort, with compositions from each of the trio being played, and a dangerously fluent style.

While American musicians – indeed African-American musicians – dominated the big slots, it felt like a return to African-African music was at the heart of much of the rest.

Songhoy Blues brought Malian Sahara sounds to Sussex – clean guitar and choruses sung in unison, this was climactic, growing stuff. Tony Allen reminded everyone that there’s more to drumming than defaulting to a rock beat, with a wide variety of twisting and evolving percussion lines. It was laid back Afrobeat from a luminary not interested in chatting (“I don’t want to waste your time with blah blah blah”), but happy to bring in some funky bass and great muted trumpet top lines.

What Fela charisma, horns and singing anyone might have missed with Allen was delivered by Bukky Leo and Black Egypt in a very serious rendition of a collection of Fela Kuti’s finest works. Presented with a real intensity, the late crowd at In the Round on Saturday were treated to dancing, singing and hearing a rendition of Zombie for the second time that day.

* * *

Nubya Garcia
Photo credit and © Andy Sheppard /

Jazz in the UK has long been seen as a middle-class boy’s game. The festival attendance is refreshingly diverse, but are the people on stage representative of the people watching? This year we could continue to see that change on stage, with festival organisers taking note (**). There was a rich seam of instrumental female talent on show, from the established and enthralling Yazz Ahmed and the growing in stature Nubya Garcia (who had people bursting out of the sides of the Arena to hear her), to Tomorrow’s Warriors all-female frontline and the baritone player from Yorkshire’s finest, the wandering New York Brass Band.

The boys are obviously still here, with Portico Quartet closing proceedings in the Arena on Saturday night with an ambient electronic set covering songs from their earlier albums (the house ‘snap’ of drums and honks of Ruins) and newer tunes from their latest album Art in the Age of Automation (the slowly applied layers of Current History). Portico Quartet continue to develop their textured sound, built around a clear drum groove and an atmospheric combination of hang and soprano.

But they are the remainder of the last wave of new UK jazz, and now an old guard along with the very talented serious Loop and F-ire Collectives; part of the excitement of Love Supreme 2018 was the welcoming of the New London Scene. Love Supreme was packed with different permutations of an energetic and rephrased take of what jazz in the UK now means – and no more so that what that means for Jazz in London.

* * *

Moses Boyd Exodus
Photo credit and © Andy Sheppard /

It started with Henry Wu playing a set of accessible, danceable tracks. No easy crowd pleasers and shortcuts, just a strong groove and funky, jazzy stuff. In parallel Beat Replacement, Jamie Murray’s drum led fusion powerhouse, rattled through a mesmerising set, pushing time signatures and crunching bass lines (6-strings! 4-string electric basses were like unicorns this year). They were particularly brought to life by the collaboration with Zhenya Strigalev, who danced round Murray’s percussion shadowed in a fascinatingly intense, winding and staccato performance – a real orchestrated duo moment.

It was the Arena stage which London really made it’s home for the weekend. Alfa Mist presented an accomplished set mixing old-school beats and clean contemporary horn lines – Moses Boyd Exodus gave his two horn players Binker Golding and Nathaniel Cross the space to develop some frenetic, exciting interplay after they’d played a more restrained role supporting Zara McFarlane as part of her 10-piece return to Love Supreme.

Things were mixed up a little with Oscar Jerome’s raw, introspective musings and minimal powerful lyrics. A light-touch on the guitar and stripped back setup, Jerome sucks the audience in with syncopated stories. Barney Artist went for a very different approach founded on enthusiasm, self deprecation and openness dragging an early crowd out of their shells to scratched samples and stories about weddings.

Ezra Collective with ‘musical lynchpin’ of 2018
Joe Armon-Jones (far left)
Photo credit and © Andy Sheppard /

However the musical lynchpin award this year(***) goes to Joe Armon-Jones for being at the heart of Nubya Garcia, Mr Jukes, and Ezra Collective, who stole the show on Saturday. Sound-checking on Wayne Shorter standards and opening up with a controlled dual horn intro, when they get going they’re irrepressible, irresistible. Whether it’s a Cuban clave or afrobeat shuffle, Ezra Collective (like Boyd, or Murray) have percussion as an accessible driving force. Femi Koleoso creates a drumming ‘wall of sound’ more like BrB’s yellow wall than Coltrane’s, and takes hold of the stage chat. This isn’t any stage patter about ladybirds – the mini-manifestos in between are nearly as compelling as the songs itself, whether about getting on with it (“We’re celebrating the things that make us the same, not different), or getting down with it (“When it gets hype, you need to get hype, you get me?”). African music is definitely being represented here, too, with an epic Fela Kuti mashup finish giving Armon-Jones a stretch on the organ while the Koleoso duo are pulling the rhythm strings.

The crowd are so into it, but they knew they were into it before – these guys are the sort who gather momentum, and a following crowd. Dylan Jones and James Mollison spend half the gig winking and shouting to various people in the crowd, and the official cameraman on stage is definitely upstaged by a pal with an iPhone and some enthusiastic dance moves. They want everyone to share in it, too.

Together, the New London Scene is making Jazz accessible, with people on stage who are people like you. No elite niches or shibboleths – recent musical crossovers like the West Coast Get Down have flushed out a new crowd. Is the LA scene to thank? Partly, maybe. But this is London grown. Organisations like Tomorrow’s Warriors deserve credit for nurturing acts from the ground up (also with Denys Baptiste this year, and Laura Jurd, Soweto Kinch etc from previous festivals), and Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood deserves recognition for continuing to provide platforms for them to grow, but really this is coming from a group of hardworking friends who are interested.

Ezra Collective may have set a high mark, but they know they’re just part of the team. As Koleoso said, “This is bigger than us, what you see on stage is the London jazz scene.” Sometimes it takes getting out of a space to better define what it is. And coming to a field near Brighton seems to bring the excitement of London into sharper focus. Love Supreme may bring in the crowds for the funk and soul train, but it continues to provide a really important opportunity for the UK grassroots scene, and for that we should be giving it credit too.

* * *

(*)Challenging alternative headline spot based on competition with Earth Wind and Fire, and the ever diminishing crowd as people snuck off to try and hear September, and because of the acoustic challenges of competing with the main stage. Good news from the ground is that Love Supreme in general seem to have discussed the layout with acoustic engineers who have suggested, apparently to good effect, the introduction of a few additional sound barriers; a bar extended between the main stage and the arena to help shield the latter, moving the Bandstand round to behind some stalls and a very large tree, and introducing an additional fence barrier labyrinth to get to the Blue in Green dance tent

(**)Taking note on this topic yes, but on other topics de jour still lagging behind. Notably, recycling and plastic use. The recycling bin segregation is unconvincing, and there is a disappointing lack of attempt at cutting down on single-use waste. All drinks are served in disposable plastics instead of reusable sturdy numbers. Deposits on beer glasses and sensible bin separation would be easy things which could start to make a difference. For cyring out loud, even sports venues (i.e. the Oval) are better at this.

(***) Last year’s musical lynchpin award went to Shabaka Hutchings for playing in absolutely everything

Categories: Live reviews

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