Returning for a third time to the South Downs, behind Glynde Place, excitement was palpable in the air. It was time once again for Love Supreme Jazz Festival to open its gates, and host a plethora of the world’s best jazz, fusion, R&B and soul artists. The sun was high and on the walk around to the entrance, music was already audible from various places, a party vibe underlying the scene.
After pitching the tent, exploration was necessary and scouting out the festival for the weekend the three key stages were immediately obvious, two tents and an open stage: The Arena, the Big Top and the outdoor Main Stage. Also commendable was the fact that The Arena, even on the Friday afternoon as people were arriving was already hosting a large programme of artists, and was packed by the earlier arrivals. Son Guarachando was the only group we managed to catch on Friday, but they were absolutely stunning; rocking the stage with premium Latin rhythms and flawless, energetic vocals; a brilliant start to the festival.
Kicking off a gloriously sunny Saturday were one of this magazine’s most anticipated artists The Bad plus Joshua Redman. Joshua Redman is one of the world’s leading Saxophonists, and he did not let down. His playing was pure, and his tone perfect. The Bad Plus, as a rhythm section did not take a backseat however, and were outstanding in their own right, as well as taking solos of their own with Reid Anderson’s upright bass solos being some of the best moments of the set. A truly excellent set, Redman never missing a note, and playing impossibly high through use of harmonics. Dave King is one of the best drummers I have ever encountered, and Anderson and Iverson (keys) provided sensual yet memorable harmony. A fantastic traditional four-piece jazz group.
Blue Eyed Hawk was the next group we caught, with an interesting mix of drums, electric guitar, synth, vocals, keys and trumpet, the four piece note that they traverse art rock, jazz and multiple other soundscapes. Live their soundscapes, ambience, and layers of harmony fused perfectly to create an enchanting, relaxing and magical experience that washed as musical waves over the beach of ones’ ears. Having seen hundreds of bands, and live musicians, it is the first time I have ever been so lost for words at the sheer beauty and subtlety of a performance. The audience was left transfixed especially by their rendition of ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’, which was punctuated like the rest of the set by the chiming voice of Lauren Kinsella, a fantastic vocalist.
Next up was the Bill Laurance Project, fronted by the keys player of Snarky Puppy fame. This year heralded the release of his second album Swift, as well as Snarky Puppy’s eighth Sylva, and Laurance has been touring endlessly but maybe not tirelessly, with both groups. Although the set was a well thought out mix of old Flint tunes and new Swift tracks, at times it became clear that the performers were not the usual backing band for Laurance, perhaps most especially in the drum and bass department, where although guest performers Jonathan Harvey (bass) and Richard Spaven (drums) performed admirably, they could not quite fill the larger shoes of Mike League, and Snarky’s own Sput. Regardless of this small disappointment, Laurance commanded the stage, and played a powerful set, with notable moments of brilliance coming from ‘Money in the Desert’, ‘Ready Wednesday’ and ‘Swag Times’, and it was excellent to hear tracks from both albums in a live setting.
Following this came another artist of international fame: Larry Graham & Graham Central Station, delivered a superbly energetic, disco set on the main stage, complete with a walk through their inspirations. Graham and his band were on fire, and it had to be one of the most infectiously joyful sound of the entire day, capturing the summer weather and party spirit of the crowd. Graham’s bass playing was spectacular, and it was clear to see how he became one of the biggest influences in bass playing, slapping and popping and making the instrument come to life in his hands. Also notable was his vocalist Ashling “Biscuit” Cole, likely the youngest member of the band, but owning the performance with powerful and sweet vocals.
Saturday night’s headliner was the legendary Chaka Khan. It’s safe to say that she has lost none of her power or range over the years. Putting in an absolutely fabulous set, with a flawless backing band, Khan delivered hit after hit tirelessly, never missing a note and truly making the stage hers. Of course, ‘I’m Every Woman’ was one of the most special moments of the weekend, but the instrumentalists in the band were not forgotten, with a masterful bass solo from Melvin Lee Davies, as well as other well executed solos from the guitar, drums and keys.
Opening the final day of the festival, the rain came heavily down forcing us to seek refuge once more in the Big Top tent. This lead to my best discovery of the weekend, the vocalist, Christine Tobin. Showcasing her reimagining of Leonard Cohen’s works, with a minimal band: upright bass, drums, accordion and guitar, Tobin was captivating. Her vocals were clear and pure, and were complimented perfectly by the understated yet inspiring rhythm section. A friend of mine asked that we pay special attention to the accordion player, Huw Warren, who it happens is their tutor at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, and his minimalist approach to the accordion added perfectly to the overall sound, never sounding overdone, but never leaving us without interest. The highlight of the set was a jauntily rhythmic, yet discordant minor cover of Cohen’s ‘Story of Isaac.’
Hiatus Kaiyote were next up. Hailing from Australia; the neo-soul group blasted through a synth filled set that really got the audience grooving in the afternoon sun. Catchy melodies, funky bass lines, and some great drops filled their set with excitement both musically and visually, with a big sound that easily filled the main stage, and bordered on fusion at times. Pearl of wisdom: if a band tells you that their next song is inspired by Kung Fu and ninjas, you know it’s going to be a good one.
Another of the weekend’s big names was Terence Blanchard E-Collective. Terence Blanchard is best known as a trumpet player, but his new project E-Collective it would seem has taken a somewhat different direction. A more contemporary fusion band, we were surprised to see Blanchard also tinkering the keys of a synthesiser, though he also did play some impressive, near-impossible trumpet solos. The band was fantastic, with a notable bass player providing support for the whole sound, and really driving what was a great set. Although a departure for what he is better known, Blanchard and his E-Collective impressed, playing a memorable and fresh sounding set.
Kneebody are usually a five piece so we were somewhat bemused to see at sound check that their drummer seemed also to be playing bass. However, our worries were proved needles as the difference was unnoticeable; had we not have been able to see we would never have noticed that there was a member missing. The band’s sound was heavy and modern, and it is obvious why some see them as a more niche than the likes of Snarky Puppy to which they are sometimes compared. Personally I was reminded of last years’ Love Supreme and a performance by Polar Bear, who use similarly left field effects, and composition. A special mention must be given to saxophonist Ben Wendel, who impressed with his circular breathing and arpeggios, as well as outstanding solos.
Unfortunately after Kneebody’s sky high level of performance and rapport Sunday night’s headliner, Van Morrison, proved to be something of a wet squib. Although his band were tight, and his music was reproduced excellently on the main stage, Morrison himself came across as bored and cheerless. While his vocals were stellar, and his various solos on saxophone and guitar fit the bands’ backing well, he never once said a word to the audience nor acknowledged our presence, preferring to grimace stoically through song after song. Aside from the classics: ‘Moondance’ and ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, which went down a treat, although sounding exactly like the records, the best moments of his set were in the finale, once he had left the stage allowing his band to stay on and jam in true blues fashion. The band at this point came alive, with an energy that they had previously lacked when Morrison was on the stage.
Overall, Love Supreme’s third year was a gloriously sunny success, bigger and for the most part better than the previous years. It is located in a fabulous setting with multiple other small stages, and areas also present for those who might want to escape the larger crowds, which this year included the Jazz Lounge which over the weekend showcased some of this years most acclaimed jazz releases for example Snarky Puppy’s ‘Sylva’ with the Metropole Orchestra. Also included was a children’s area: The Giant Steps Kid’s Green, and the Bandstand which offered various activities and bands such as a Salsa dance class. With Super Early Bird tickets already on sale for 2016, it’s likely one of the best Greenfield festivals the UK has to offer, with showers, incredibly sanitary toilets, and a plethora of amazing gourmet food and drink alongside some of the best live bands around.
Tickets for next years Jazz extravaganza are already here http://www.lovesupremefestival.com/tickets-on-sale-now