Love Supreme Jazz Festival: Glynde Place, 4 – 6 July
Love Supreme, now in its second year, promised bigger and better and, in some ways, delivered. The weather forecast wasn’t promising, and the driving drizzle that swept over the campsite on Friday night/Saturday morning didn’t bode well. Fortunately, Saturday was comparatively clear and the sunshine broke through at regular enough intervals to keep us hopeful of a dry weekend.
On Saturday morning, Manchester’s very own Matthew Halsall started proceedings in the Ronnie Scott (other jazz clubs are available)’s Big Top. Four out of Halsall’s five pieces were in 3/4 and he’s very much a composer who likes the languor and quiet of the jazz waltz. His own pellucid trumpet and flugelhorn float over the top of this, and Rachel Galvin’s harp adds to the gentle groove that the band develops. Sax player John Smart has a light but achieved tone and his solos complement the leader’s. On the main stage, Natalie Williams’ Soul Family were getting things going for the soul heads. She has a neat line in Stevie Wonder covers and the other singers in the band Vula, Sharlene Hector and Brendan Reilly all contributed strong songs to a driving set.
Following Natalie Williams on the main stage, Snarky Puppy continued their love affair with the British jazz public, such that the audience stretched back almost to the food stalls. Micheal League’s wonderful jazz funk band brought a different set to the one which they brought to Manchester’s Band on the Wall not very long ago. This was a much more open set than that one with moments, for example, when the rest of the band left the stage to the percussionists. British pianist Bill Laurence showcased tunes from his recent, and highly successful solo album. ‘We love you Snarky Puppy’.
A festival such as this will always bring revelations and the first of these was drummer Jaimeo Brown in the Big Top on Saturday afternoon. Brown has an embraced a profound African-American aesthetic which harks back to Max Roach’s Freedom Now suite of the early sixties, albeit in a different way; where Roach was angry, Brown is celebratory. The music is an intriguing, heady mix of samples from the spirituals chanted by the quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, the power guitar of Chris Scholar and the force and drive of tenor player J.D. Allen. When the plangency of guitar and tenor wove through the voices of the quilters, the effect was sometimes unbearably moving.
British bass player Dave Holland’s Prism was the penultimate act in the Big Top. This was almost an M-base supergroup with Craig Taborn on piano and electric piano, Kevin Eubanks on guitar and Eric Harland on drums. The pieces written by all four members of the band were mostly repeated figures that built into slightly constrained grooves. This was of a piece with the demeanour of the players for whom a nodding of the head was almost all the movement they made. I’d never seen Craig Taborn play acoustic piano before and was surprised at just how fluent and expansive a player he could be; though such moments were few and far between. This is a band with both considerable restraint and also considerable charge.
The final act in the Big Top was John Schofield’s Uber-Jam. This soubriquet seems slightly misplaced as the improvisation centers round Schofield almost alone. He’s always been a melodic guitarist and this music owed more to the sound world of Little Feat and the Doobie Brothers than to the jazz tradition, let alone Schofield’s years with Miles Davis or Mike Gibbs. As Schofield himself suggested it seemed as though he and rhythm guitarist Avi Bortnick had written a song for Al Green.
On the main stage, Incognito reprised their extensive back catalogue and then Laura Mvula took the place by storm; though that’s not the right way to describe both her cool but genial performing or her composing style. It’s something about the way she uses the strings and the celeste which gives her pieces a uniquely floating quality. Jamie Cullum topped the bill on the main stage.
Manchester also had a hand in opening things on the Sunday morning. John Smart’s own band Mammal Hands started things off in the Arena tent, and Slowly Moving Camera brought their big chords and slow charge to the Big Top. The Camera featured Manchester’s very own Stuart McCallum on guitar and the impressive Dionne Bennett on very soulful vocals. On the main stage the wonderful baritone of Jose James was followed by Brighton’s own Alice Russell. Russell’s voice has such raw power and her song writing, too, has a gift for catchy riff and solid groove.
James Torme wins the ‘Breath of Fresh Air’ award. He clearly has the Great American Songbook running through his veins but also has a nice line in Michael Jackson covers. His torch version of ‘Rock with You’ was particularly fine. And his band, featuring Ross Stanley on the Hammond B3 organ, were as ideal a backing group as you could wish. I suspect he surprised more than me with his disclosure that he’d been brought up between San Francisco and four miles down the road in Lewes, and played for Lewes Rugby club! However, his line in natty suits doesn’t quite win the Best Dressed Band award. That surely had to go to the Christian McBride Trio. McBride is the Stephane Grappelli of the double bass; so virtuosic that the instrument seems to be him. He treated an adoring audience to versions of Monk and Ellington, and his trio of Christian Sands, an equally virtuosic pianist, and Rodney Green on drums brought real jazz pedigree and class to the slightly underweight jazz bill at this year’s festival.
Most Loved award is divided between Snarky Puppy, British soul godfather Omar in the Arena on Saturday night, and Gregory Porter who topped the bill in the Big Top on Sunday evening. This was a breathing room only concert, with the crowd stretching out around the tent in all directions. Porter’s voice is a wonderful baritone and he uses it to move effortlessly between ballad and up-tempo RnB, with classy nods to the jazz tradition with a fine rendition of Nat Adderley’s ‘Chain Gang’.
Mention should be made of Mama’s Gun in the Arena on Sunday afternoon. This is a young British band with real potential for blue-eyed soul. They have a rhythm section to die for, instrumental strength, terrific harmonies and a dearth of songs which aren’t overcomplicated and ‘epic’! Mention should also be made of the magnificent Soul II Soul. Jazzie B and Caron Wheeler’s band were in a class of their own on Sunday afternoon, and didn’t disappoint with wonderful versions of ‘Back to Life’ and ‘Keep on Movin’.
Polar Bear brought proceedings to a close in the Arena with their guarded almost deliberately etiolated sound. Bassist Tom Herbert is about as unvirtuosic as you could get, de-voicing the bass to a series of thumps and plucks; Seb Rochford’s drumming is a dry combination of busy-ness and timidity. Leafcutter John’s electronics have turned white noise into an art form. And the front line of Mark Lockheart (on the audience’s right with the slightly fatter sound) and Pete Wareham (on the left with the heavy reverb) on tenors, move in and out of tunes with occasional abandon. Polar Bear’s tunes have an almost folkey quality and there is an unadorned ‘Englishness’ to what they do which is almost addictive.
Incidental pleasures: the setting in a bowl of wooded hills, with Glynde Place above you on your left, its cupola-ed stable block, and lovely chapel; the yellow wagtail skimming about the VIP area on the Saturday morning; Henry’s wonderful lattes from eight in the morning till eleven at night; the Pieminister’s mushroom pie with mash, gravy and fried shallots; singer Lalah Hathaway’s whistling duet with backing singer Jason Morales, Laura Mvula patiently standing outside the Rough Trade tend, signing albums and having her picture taken with whole family groups and the line stretch back for ever and her sister over looking matters on a bench nearby clearly proud as proud could be. And then that ‘it’s-the-final-morning-so-brush-your-teeth-in-the-open-and-gob-up-over-the-grass-‘cos-only-the-sheep-will-be-in-here-tomorrow’moment. What’s not to Love…Supreme!