Love Supreme Jazz Festival
Glynde Place, Sussex
Friday 3rd -Sunday 5th July, 2015
A treasure trove of jazz, funk and blues, with a glowing heart of soul, sprinkled with a dash of the avant-garde, sounds unlikely in the middle of the Sussex countryside. But it’s true: overnight, a magic city of yellow and red-striped tents appeared at Firle Place in Glynde, with three or four large stages apart from the Main Stage, and providing a bewitching, romantic country estate setting and acres of green fields, and the perfect excuse to do a spot of glamping under the stars.
Now in its third year, the Festival has grown considerably since it first started and now attracts increasing numbers of jazz fans from round the UK and abroad. It has also changed musically, becoming simultaneously edgier, experimental, and yet more mainstream. A lineup with Chaka Khan and Van Morrison as the main headline acts was always going to stretch the boundaries of what defines jazz as a genre. On the other hand, a real Aladdin’s Cave of live experience was conjured up for exploration: from contemporary acts like sax player Joshua Redman and the Bad Plus, to X-Factor runner up Rebecca Ferguson, with her own take on the songs of Billie Holliday, and from Brighton’s own Eddie Myer Quintet comprising the cream of local virtuosity, to modern swinging grooves from Partisans, featuring Julian Siegel, notable for touring with Bjork. Presenting their take on the work of David Bowie with mixed media, a movie backdrop of the streets of Berlin, and with an avant-garde flavour, Dylan Howe’s Subterraneans were one of the highlights of Sunday on the Arena stage. The festival’s soul-pop contingent was represented by acts like Omar and Lisa Stansfield, with Rochdale-born Stansfield in particular showing great rapport with the festival crowds from the Main Stage, turning in a hard, driving, bass-heavy set of a string of her hits, and whose trademark gritty-sweet vocals were infectious with danceability.
One of the revelations of the weekend had to be Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion’s set in the packed-out Big Top Tent, where a veteran vintage rock legend pounded his way through experimental Middle Eastern percussive jams with the stamina of a rookie athlete. On stage with him were his American band, two drumkits and one of the most skilled and versatile blues guitarists I’ve heard. Baker has lost none of the trademark hypnotic “tribal” drumming style he first developed with rock power trio Cream and supergroup Blind Faith, with its echoes of Native American and Central African influences, and his particular brand of experimental jazz-fusion now presents a true “world” groove. The rhythms of African legend Hugh Masakela playing this stage in the evening served to climax and round off the world music atmosphere.
Larry Graham and Graham Central Station provided a brass-centric, humorous trawl through the history of funk, while Dianne Reeves’ intimate show was like having a musical conversation with a friend. As a regularly featured singer on Jazz FM, with an immense vocal range, emotional integrity and depth, she invited the audience into her personal world, but in an unmistakeably credible jazz vein. Neneh Cherry’s soul, rap, hip-hop and underground influences showcased a set infused with tracks from her new album “Blank Project”, while Jason Moran performed several re-imaginings of Fats Waller songs throughout the weekend to enthusiastic reception by his listeners.
When it came to the magnetism and commercial appeal of acts like Van Morrison, then, the audience were thoroughly ready to enjoy themselves. As a consummate and seasoned performer used to platforms such as the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, Morrison was able to hold the audience in the palm of his hand if not actually to convert to his brand of electric blues-folk. However, hits such as “Moondance” and “Brown-Eyed Girl” , brought all ages and musical backgrounds to their feet and grooving.
Chaka Khan, with an undeniably slick and professional band and armed with her wonderful familiar radio-friendly pop vocal screech and a shock of thick reddish-auburn hair, somewhat diffused the attention of an audience who had come to hear her hits and were greeted with a series of self-penned new songs, which while worth a listen, were not the principal draw.
By the time she was ready to perform “I Feel For You” and ”What Can You Do For Me?” however, they were definitely ready to dance, and she went on to delight them with her rendition of “My Funny Valentine”, followed by pop ballads such as “Through the Fire”.
By turns undeniably authentic, quixotic, quirky and transformative, Love Supreme Festival takes the occasionally over-earnest edge off jazz and makes it what it needs to be in the 21st century: broadly appealing, accessible and fun. I can’t wait to see what it ‘s going to turn into next.
Reviewed by Jasmine Sharif
Photo of Dianne Reeves by Brian O'Connor www.imagesofjazz.com