Event Review: Love Supreme Jazz Festival @ Glynde Place (Glynde, Sussex; Friday 5th to Sunday 7th July 2019)

The glorious Love Supreme returned to the prime Sussex pastures of Glynde for its seventh year, and what a return it was. With such a startling array of talent on offer, it was a mighty challenge to stay in one spot for too long for fear of missing out elsewhere. Thankfully, this is a pleasantly compact festival which allows people to easily and swiftly transition from one point to the next.

I was greeted at first by the highly infectious sounds of Sampa The Great, fresh off a flight from Australia, whose energy was most befitting of her content. Socially conscious and eager to deliver a message, this angular urban hip-hop hybrid also bears the hallmark of her Zambian roots. In this blighted era of political turmoil, the surge of activist-soaked music is of paramount importance, and no genre has a greater pedigree in this than jazz and blues. The lineage is extensive, and Sampa has positioned herself with a powerful eloquence somewhere between hip-hop and jazz. “Reality is what you make it,” she said, before also attesting that, “We only have one rule, and that is to feel free”. Amen.

Sampa The Great @ Love Supreme Festival 2019 (© Richard Johnson)

Forging their own path within the future soul movement, Yakul, a four-piece from Brighton, are definitely emulating the likes of Jordan Rakei and Tom Misch, amongst others, but with a bit more of a punch. James Berkeley’s keys and vocals front the band’s sound, pushing the groove just enough to give it a fusion-like hue without losing the funk.

Tenesha The Wordsmith, accompanied by DJ Khalab’s experimental electronic beats, was another intriguing discovery. The Oakland native, signed to On The Corner records, delivered a very open, honest and genuine set of poems, engaging in a very informal and relaxed way with the relatively small crowd before her in the very little Bands And Voices tent. A fluid style, akin to 60’s and 70’s social commentary, Tenesha carries the torch for something of a minority genre. The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron both spring to mind, but her work and style are far more reminiscent of Sarah Webster Fabio, although less subversive and with a more distinct narrative.

GoGo Penguin @ Love Supreme Festival 2019 (© Justine Trickett)

Headlining on the Friday night, GoGo Penguin are no strangers to the Love Supreme stages, this being their fourth appearance. Swathed in a smoky light, adding more rock ‘n’ roll to their brand of high-octane jazz, the Penguin sound was multi-textural and almost euphoric in its epicness. Jazz’s answer to the Manic Street Preachers.

As we moved into Saturday, the sun was still shining and the bubbles continued to waft across the site. More magic had arrived from Australia, this time in the form of The Teskey Brothers, delivering some highly authentic and bluesy soul, evocative of Otis Redding and William Bell. This isn’t Muscle Shoals; this is Melbourne Shoals. I then found myself among a small crowd at the bandstand for a performance of enchanting flamenco singing and dancing from Brighton-based group, Clandestino. Traditional sounds were coloured with a Persian brush and brought right up to date with a touch of contemporary jazz. The Aussie invasion continued with 30/70, experimental groovers with their own brand of fusion. With a hefty nod to acid jazz, Allysha Joy delivered her potent message, challenging our listening with a modicum of abstraction and hypnotic scatting, while a synthesiser and sequencer underpinned the bass-driven, sometimes dubby groove. Think Dreadzone meets Sun Ra. Cosmic.

Theon Cross @ Love Supreme Festival 2019 (© Richard Johnson)

New Orleans’ fresh new things, Tank And The Bangas, brought a colourful (green, mostly) r’n’b party to the main stage, with something of a P-Funk zest. Brighton’s own Chip Wickham brought many of his family and friends to The Arena, as well as a glorious brand of Latin-infused jazz, up-tempo rhythms and banter. Theon Cross, another key player in the vibrant British jazz scene, delivered some incredibly dextrous work on his tuba, weaving bass lines and melodies into a powerful mini opus. Wherever one went, right across the site, there was more and more sound to be enjoyed, to be captivated by. Reggae stalwart, Jimmy Cliff, rifled through his back catalogue and gave the audience hit after hit. The phenomenal powerhouse that is Snarky Puppy were always expected to enthral, and they did not disappoint, save for my own greed. When a group of musicians is this virtuosic and have garnered as many plaudits as Snarky Puppy have over the years, wanting even more than they could give was inevitable. There was still plenty of time to get across to legendary soul diva, Gladys Knight, whose polished performances of classic songs were only marred by her considerable rhetoric and compulsion to tell us how much she really loved us.

Gladys Knight @ Love Supreme Festival 2019 (© Richard Johnson)

But it was a singer who appeared on Sunday afternoon who truly stole the show. Alicia Olatuja glided into the Big Top and proceeded to treat us to something very special. A classically trained mezzo-soprano, Olatuja’s range and power is truly joyous. Focussing primarily on an album released earlier this year, she is celebrating female composers with a diverse collection of covers. She doesn’t shy away from difficult ideas with Joni Mitchell’s “Cherokee Louise”, Imogen Heap’s “Hide And Seek” and Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason” all providing her with challenges that she spoke about. Exhilarating us with her tone and her overall presence, this was a master class not only in vocal dexterity, but also in how to engage with those people massed in front of you. While Gladys had us eating out of her hand, Olatuja was happier to cook and then join us at the table to feast.

Love Supreme clearly has the intention of heavily engaging with the younger generation, and they hit the spot with Kamaal Williams and Mahalia. Williams is part of the Rhythm Section Peckham jazz scene, and the DJ in him, along with his house music roots, creates a dynamic which really pulls in the youth. The demographic of the Big Top was clear evidence of this, alongside a smattering of older heads who had obviously caught wind of this exuberance so manifest in contemporary British jazz. Like 30/70 earlier in the day, there was a spacey funk feel, delicately ethereal at times and with a much more rounded jazz hue. Mahalia’s lyrics are highly poetic, with each song tending to derive from personal (and sometimes bitter) experience. She was more than happy to tell the story behind each one, although like Gladys, she might want to refer to the old adage that less is more.

Joe Armon Jones played with both Ezra Collective and Nubya Garcia at last year’s event, and here he was again, this time with his own project. With deep reggae vibes and some sounds that appeared to borrow from the likes of Weather Report, each band member was afforded the space in which to construct their own narrative; each component an equal part of the whole. It was Joe’s name on the bill, but he’s not your classic frontman.

Lauryn Hill closed the weekend with a performance that lacked in terms of its delivery, but more than made up for with its nostalgic nature. It wasn’t remotely on a par with Earth Wind And Fire last year, but then at the end of this magical weekend, it somehow didn’t seem to matter. The rich diet of music consumed across the three days was borderline gluttony, but it was delicious.

Roll on 2020.