Love Supreme, Glynde Place, Sussex.  3rd – 5th July


There is a stunned silence around Glynde Place on the first Monday in July.  People wander from the toilet blocks, and back and forth from the Wide Away Café with a pinched look on their faces.  It’s not just that someone’s taken their holiday away, or that for at least some of them, they face work and the real world the tomorrow. It’s that for three days, there’s been a different kind of world here;  Henry’s Gourmet coffee;  CreperieOui; Pieminster;  each of which are Love Supreme institutions; or Snarky Puppy on video in the Jazz Lounge, an innovation this year.  And the choice of music led to timetable clashes of a very severe kind.

There’s always an element of tension at Love Supreme, between a need to provide a level of jazz purism and an equally compelling need to provide for a wider audience.  To some extent that tension is resolved with three stages, and, even, a bandstand, which supports local and smaller national players.

Purity was first up on Saturday in the Big Top, with The Bad Plus Joshua Redman.  The Bad Plus have always been a slightly cerebral trio, and pianist Ethan Iverson has a neat side line in criticism not least in his blog, Do the Math.  Their rise to fame came, to some extent, as a jazz trio which created post-bop covers of rock numbers;  and there had been a feeling that their own ventures into composition had not always been quite as successful.  Tenor player Joshua Redman, son of Dewey, is a player of plangent elegance. And his presence has given the Bad Plus a soulful strength.  The compositions are still as lapidary, but the whole set was consistently engrossing and moving, even with that slight layer of coolness.

Later on Sunday, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire brought his quartet to the Big Top.  Akinmusire belongs to that genre of American jazz whose roots are very much in the African-American spiritual tradition. The title of his most recent album on Blue Note, The Imagined Savior is far easier to paint, also hints at a tension that lies in his own music.  Akinmusire’s own sound is the very essence of mellow.  And yet his spirituality creates an ethereal, free-form music in which his quartet, Sam Harris on piano, Harish Raghavan on bass and the wonderful Jason Brown on drums, plays and tumbles with an immense, if stark, beauty.

Early Sunday evening, Terence Blanchard brought his new E-Collective to the Big Top.  This group has been compared to Miles’ Bitches Brew group, and there’s a similar sound world at work here.  Blanchard, an exhaustive jazz educator, has often got young players into his groups, and in E-collective he has Fabian Almazan on keyboards, and the virtuosic Charles Altura on guitar, the line-up is completed by Oscar Seaton from Sheffield on drums and Donald Ramsey on bass guitar.  Blanchard has always had an activism in his music – he composed the magnificent sound track to Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke – and the music here was from Blanchard’s most recent Breathless album;  music inspired by the ‘I Can’t Breathe’ campaign. The rhythm is sometimes on the funky side of jazz, but Blanchard is incapable of mediocrity and the intensity of both playing and composition made this one of the standout sessions of the festival.

British jazz has always had a strong presence at Love Supreme.  The great Partisans brought their driving, John Schofield influenced jazz-funk to the Big Top on Saturday.  Manchester’s Gogo Penguin, newly ennobled – well, signed to Blue Note – were as brilliant as we’ve come to expect;  the  bowed bass under which the drums shuffle and pound, and over which pianist Chris Illingworth repeats his churning figures. Get The Blessing range from haunting, elegant simplicities to a kind of power quartet akin to Trio VD. The Big Top was filled to overflowing for Bill Laurance who played music from his two solo albums.  There is an elegiac, film-music quality to Laurence’s compositions , and the big chords and the swelling  movement of the pieces was beautifully played to an enthusiastic crowd by Laurance, his rhythm section, and a string trio with French horn.

Old-school soul came to Love Supreme via Diane Reeves, Candi Staton, Lisa Stansfield and a brilliant, barn-storming set from Chaka Khan who headlined Saturday night.

Special mention must go to Haitus Kaiyote on the main stage on Sunday afternoon.  Singer Nai Palm and the group play a closely composed, almost costive R & B, in which guitar, keys, bass and drums play small, beautifully integrated sections.  They rarely stretch out and what solos there are, are few and far between.  The overall effect, however, is both controlled and very funky. Nai Palm has a voice which is fragile and powerful at the same time, and the lyrics run through the compositions filling almost every corner.

But this review must finish by writing about Hugh Masekela who brought proceedings to an end in the Big Top.  He’s 76, apparently, and if the years have slightly dented his wonderful playing, his showmanship and ability to engage a crowd have only increased in power.  This power was shown most forcibly in his own introduction to the famous ‘Freedom Train’ which brought silence to the Big Top and reduced a number of the audience to tears. And he graced us by finishing his set with his great hit ‘Grazing in the Grass’.  If Masekela has re-oriented his music to a funkier, more mainstream kind, in front of an audience he is still a very great performer indeed.


Ian Pople 

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