After a two year hiatus, Love Supreme is back, vibrant as ever. Since its inception in 2013 some have questioned whether a large scale jazz festival would survive, going so far as to label it a risky endeavour. The festival responded, casting its net far and wide to celebrate the world’s best funk, soul, hip-hop and blues alongside jazz. The naysayers also got to eat their words with 25,000 sell-out crowds a day.
Nestled in the rolling hills of Glynde, Sussex, the eclectic programming offered things that surprised at every turn- tap dancing from Grounded Movement, craft ale, artisan-this-and-that and plenty of room to lounge in deep leather sofas in two ‘secret’ VIP Supremium areas hosting intimate pop-up gigs alongside dance floor shaking DJs hidden amongst the Blue in Green stage in the woods, plus more across 5 stages. Trains were packed from London and there was even a cute little cattle truck to drag you up the hill if you were slightly festival-ed out.
The alchemic mix of genres was fired up by England’s own pianist/ multi-instrumentalist Jon Cleary (Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal) exploring the Caribbean roots of New Orleans, with percussionist Pedro Segundo adding textures and fun to this energised set. It featured exploding rhumbas and funky basslines shouting out to the second line rhythms of New Orleans, the place he’s called home for more than 40 years. Laced with originals with a nod to classics by New Orleans’ piano giant Professor Longhair, the crowd in the South Downs set was transported to the late night, deep funk set that I’ve seen him conjure up in New Orleans.
Erykah Badu, despite being an hour late with two drum set ups and full on DJ, backing singers and percussion ensemble, exuded space-age, neo-soul reminiscent of Sun Ra. I couldn’t take my eyes off her African-inspired layered smock affair. Her chosen backdrop was vintage clips of Soul Train and a far-out light show. At one point a spaceship appeared on the screen behind her and she ascended the on-stage staircase into it. Eccentric, soulful and hilarious, her chat in between tracks was gold – ‘What’s the name of this tour again? I’m naming it The Crystal Tour. May the Quartz be with you’. Her dizzying vocal range hit just a few stray notes but overall she morphed between sweet and soulful to the sublime, treating the audience to hits like Next ‘Lifetime’, ‘On and On’, ‘Telephone’, and ‘Window Seat’. The headline set climaxed with an a cappella finale of ‘Believe In Yourself’ from the film, ‘The Wiz’, before she floated offstage giving high fives to all.
Cubafrobeat over at Jazz In the Round, curated by soul brothers and fellow Jazz FM DJs Chris Phillips and JezNelson, didn’t disappoint. Afrobeat has been trending recently, being one of the main influences on the explosive, rhythmic jazz of lauded bands like Ezra Collective, Kokoroko and SEED. Cubafrobeat is a seasoned collective of virtuoso musicians from an extended family of like minds, made up of Cuban-born percussionists, British players and Nigerian afrobeat pioneer, keyboardist and vocalist, Dele Sosimi– one time player with Fela Kuti. These guys have been playing and promoting authentic afrobeat together for 25 years. Band leader and keyboard maestro Kishon Khan, who spent time living in Cuba, directed the band with a three-pronged percussion section and a powerful horn section out front. Nine of them gathered on the Bands and Voices stage for a wild finale to two days of programming by Chris and Jez. Kicking off with a Latin jazz charge, the audience was transported to the backstreets of Havana before effortlessly switching to the heat and funk of Lagos and the sounds of Fela Kuti’s Africa 70. The energy level was high, with a crowd of 1000 festival revellers packed in dancing. It was call and response, builds and drops to excite, and one of the highlights of the weekend.
Bringing us the soul of his native Havana, exuberant pianist Harold Lopez Nussa was perfectly backed by his gifted trio. The virtuosic pianist combined tropical rhythms with dazzling stride piano and traditional Cuban-inflected beats setting up the audience to participate in all manner of infectious handclaps. Equally dazzling was the interplay between Nussa’s brother Ruy on drums and the double bass, exuding such soul it was mesmerising to witness.
One of my favourite parts of a festival is walking past a tent, having somewhat of a sonic epiphany as strange strains hit you between the ears before you decide to jump headlong into the fray. Such a thing happened with Franc Moody in the South Downs tent, described as contemporary funk, awash with electronic inspiration, human touches, and throbbing grooves. It featured the keytar, afrobeat tinged electronica with dance floor friendly deep basslines, long drawn-out vamps and grooves combined with the most silky female backing vocals seeming to come out of nowhere from the percussionist and bass players. Franc Moody’s sound, according to the band, ‘feels like George Clinton’s less talented grandchildren are in your ear holes’. I’d say they created a mood all of their own, the band so tight and into each other’s playing, so carried away at one point that four musicians lay on their backs playing their instruments into the air above their heads.
Gary Bartz has played with jazz luminaries like Art Blakey, Max Roach, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett and Miles Davis. He’s widely recognised as one of the strongest soloists on Miles Davis’ ‘Live – Evil’; the recording of the band’s performance at the 1973 Montreux Jazz Festival which has gone down in history. He dazzled, leading Maisha, a tight band of London musicians he’s been collaborating with since 2018, which was brought together by Brownswood Records/ 6 Music’s Gilles Peterson at his inaugural We Out Here festival in Summer 2019 where Maisha was Bartz’ back-up band. It worked so well, Peterson brought everyone back together a few months later for a gig at the EFG London Jazz Festival. I was in that number and while it was astonishing, this set at Love Supreme set felt looser, deeper and more spiritual, with Bartz switching between tenor and alto collaborating with trumpet supremo Axel Kaner-Lindstrom before the bass player introduced the 1973 classic ‘I’ve Known Rivers’ where Bartz’s undulating tones added layers and mystery to Langston Hughes’s poem. Hughes became the voice of black America in the 1920s, he was the poet laureate of Harlem- also a journalist, playwright and lyricist – Bartz’ singing and playing on I’ve Known Rivers added a shock of vibrancy and a sentiment of standing up to racial injustice that seemed to reverberate around the tent and echo through the ages.
Bartz’s work with so many legends of the jazz world and his ability to blend jazz with alternative styles and social and political messages, Bartz holds a huge amount of resonance with hip-hop and dance music communities to this day.
A massive shout out to DJs Tim Garcia and Tina Edwards who programmed the bands and DJs at the Blue in Green stage, bringing jazz to the dancefloor with their two hours back to back featured Brazilian groove, highlife, disco afrobeat and more, packing in hundreds of dancers under the disco ball as we looked out into the sunshine.
I thought a soon-to-split Sons of Kemet would be the weekend’s climax – a kaleidoscopic collaboration between Shabaka Hutchings and Nubya Garciawhich saw them going head-to-head, propelled by three drummers, each taking it in turn to create the vibe. All kinds of shapes and colours were created by the angular dissonant squawks and revolving themes created by the master saxophonists. It contrasted nicely with Sister Sledge’s set of pure disco bangers and TLC rolling out all their hits with flashes of 90s nostalgia, but it was the measured crescendo of the man with the mellow-yet-powerful voice Gregory Porter whose sublime, but laid-back, performance that was the perfect end to this festival. I dashed for the last train back to London but not before seeing him do a tender version of ‘Hey Laura’ and an extended all guns blazing gospel uplifting version of ‘Liquid Spirit’. My spirit expanded and flowed all the way back to London.