Love Supreme Jazz Festival | Glynde Place, Sussex | 30th June/1st July

Love Supreme presented a range of contrasts this year. It always does but this year those contrasts seemed more marked. They were contrasts between a range of very senior artists, let’s use the word ‘legends’, contrasted with a group of much younger artists who are, perhaps, growing into their own voices and growing into ways of organising their music.
The ‘legends’ included George Clinton, who brought his usual, astonishing crowd rousing funk and energy to the main stage on Sunday night and whose set included a range of his well-known numbers, as well as newer material. Earth, Wind and Fire finished the festival on the main stage, and were their usual, tight and entertaining selves. If they come across as a little on the ‘heritage’ side, that doesn’t detract from the sheer professionalism they bring to some of the finest soul out there. Another ‘legend’, Steve Winwood, again delivered a very tight set to round up things in the Big Top on Sunday. Winwood announced the set would contain material from the sixties and seventies, so the fans of his early Traffic material were not disappointed. His band comprised a similar set of instruments to the classic, soulful Traffic line-up; congas/percussion, guitar, saxes and drums, and Winwood contributed the bass line from the Hammond B3. Somehow, Winwood still has that magnificent soulful voice which was so central to Traffic sound.

Before Winwood, Mavis Staples completely ‘owned’ the Big Top. When she told us about marching from Selma to Montgomery with ‘The Reverend Martin Luther King’, and then proceeded to sing her father, ‘Pop’ Staples’s ‘Freedom Road’, we knew we were in the presence of a very special artist. Staples still has a magnificent voice and makes every song resonate. This was a beautifully organised performance, her band of two supporting singers, and guitar/vocals, bass and drums, provided a well-drilled but deeply soulful context for Mavis Staples’ still wonderful voice.

Another legend, Pharoah Saunders, headlined the Big Top on Saturday night. Saunders was seen as a pillar of the American avant-garde in the sixties; it was he rather than Coltrane, who pioneered the ‘sheets of sound’ which Coltrane later took to the heights. Saunders is still capable of those sheets of sound, in fact, that is mostly what he produces out of the saxophone these days; the tunefulness of his earlier playing seems, sadly, a little lacking in his current performances, and it’s his ‘singing’ which accounts for most of his performance. His excellent band play most of the music. Saunders also produced a large amount of soul-jazz, and the performance of his funky spiritual classic, ‘The Creator has a Master Plan’, was a high point of an intense, driving set.

The trio of Dave Holland, Chris Potter and Zakir Hussain preceded Mavis Staples with a set of the highest quality acoustic jazz; a little bit of a rarity on the three main stages where electricity tends to dominate. This is likely to be one of those combinations that ECM label boss, Manfred Eicher, likes to set up from the musicians in his roster. But the set these three masters produced was electric in its own way. Potter is, perhaps, the pre-eminent saxophonist of his generation. His tone on soprano is crystalline and beautiful. And the muscularity of his tenor playing is always subservient to the sculptural certainties of his soloing. Holland is one of the great virtuoso bassists and he, too, produces wonderfully wrought solos. Zakir Hussain drove this gorgeous music from the tablas.

Elsewhere, Jack Steadman, aka Mr Jukes, produced a tight set of numbers from his God First album on the Main Stage, in a good driving band, with Joe Armon-Jones of Ezra Collective on keys. Ezra Collective produced another driving Fela Kuti influenced set in the Arena on Saturday evening. Ezra Collective are another spin-off from Gary Cosby’s Tomorrow’s Warriors, with Dylan Jones (trumpet), James Mollison (tenor saxophone), and the Koleoso brothers TJ on Bass, Femi on Drums. In contrast, to a number of their younger British contemporaries on show at Love Supreme, Ezra Collective are disciplined and convincing. Fela Kuti’s drummer, the great Tony Allen, brought the essence of Afro-Beat to the Big Top on Saturday. And following him, Lalah Hathaway brought her extraordinary vocal technique to the service of a range of lovely soul numbers.

by Ian Pople

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