“Clearly, this festival is all about love,” Gregory Porter says near the end. Under South Downs skies which by Sunday were pure blue, Love Supreme‘s fifth year certainly lived up to its name more than ever. If its 2013 prototype was jazz fans’ Woodstock moment, 2017 was a wider coming out party. Among a sell-out, 28,000 crowd, jazz and popular music were reacquainted after a long and painful separation, and tribalism and hate in the world beyond Glynde was repeatedly rejected. This was Love Supreme’s finest weekend so far because the new jazz frontier it has nurtured is now so undeniably strong.
Saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings’ three Saturday gigs deliberately crown him as British jazz’s new king. His marathon begins around lunchtime with his South African group, Shabaka & the Ancestors. The crowd sway to a polyrhythmic simmer, while Siyabonga Mthembu mixes gospel chants with raw, raging denouncements of imperialism and racism, confronting more than communicating. The knots of young dancers at the front are the band’s real message, anyway. By the evening, as shirtless young ravers lose it to a tuba solo by Sons of Kemet‘s Theon Cross, it’s clear that this new audience has no preconceptions about jazz, roaring on solos and sweating on the dancefloor in a way hardly seen since the 1980s. This continues for the triple-bill’s climax, The Comet Is Coming, with its explosions into wide open, Afro-futurist uplands. The soft-spoken, fiercely purposeful Hutchings leaves as a generation’s underground icon.
Love Supreme’s careful alchemy between its mostly soul and funk main stage and jazz’s fringe then sparks with Michael Wollny’s outrageous talent, to atomic effect. As soul survivor Lee Fields finishes under sun-kissed skies, curious hundreds fill the Big Top. They find Michael Wollny’s Trio zigzagging from early 20th century composer Alban Berg’s ‘Nacht’ to the rave crescendo of ‘God Is A DJ’, musical norms splintering under his eager assault. But it’s when his hyper-agile technique and his band’s A-train urgency drop away, leaving him in a clearing of limpid solo beauty, that the crowd hush, and are his.
Herbie Hancock (above) arrives to the thunderous reception this ever-questing great deserves, but there’s no sense of the 77-year-old resting on his laurels. Much as I love where Miles went in the 1970s, there’s much in the fusion sound which often follows tonight which leaves me personally cold, the vocoder and electric piano sometimes seeming clunky, even ugly, compared to the newly-sharpened visions elsewhere. That’s my problem, though, as Hancock explores the possible byways of ‘Cantaloupe Island’, here interspersed with a tune by guitarist Lionel Loueke, and returning to the soul-jazz head only after far-flung, curious adventures. Hancock wields his keytar for ‘Chameleon’ with the eagerness of a teenage axe hero, and gets a hero’s farewell, too. Another veteran, George Benson (below), will play just enough guitar later, in between 1980s nostalgia.
In the smaller Arena, Mammal Hands represent a similar UK school to their former labelmates GoGo Penguin, tending towards cyclical modes, till Jordan Smart’s sax is lifted by another receptive crowd into freer, Coltranesque flights. Earlier, J-Sonics satisfy a big Friday night crowd with roiling Latin and Afrobeat rhythms.
New Orleans’ current favourite son Christian Scott struggles for focus, till he talks about his upbringing as the grandson of an Afro-Indian tribal chief, and the social conscience this forged in a world of soul-wounding neglect. ‘The Last Chieftain’ leaves him hunched over, his trumpet’s imploring wail repeating, unsatisfied. At the same moment, Kamasi Washington is bathing a large, main stage crowd idling in deckchairs with spiritual jazz. “Don’t worry what happened before me. I’m here,” Patrice Quinn comforts in ‘The Rhythm Changes’, like a loving God, or some other shoulder to rest on. Similar healing is at work with Miles Mosley‘s (pictured top) branch of Washington’s West Coast Get Down. His new soul protest album Uprising leaves more room live for his Hendrixesque, distorted double-bass solos, alongside rousing melodies and humane sympathy. He seems certain to return a star.
Gregory Porter knows all about that. His great success can leave him taken for granted. Porter respects his talent and audience too much to do the same. “Mr. Policeman – God bless him,” he improvises, finding unironic mercy for a uniformed killer in the riot for which ‘1960 What?’ becomes a gospel prayer. His momentary assumption of elderly, thick-tongued huskiness helps keep the song alive. In front of the sound-desk, meanwhile, a row of young people are dancing like loons to Porter’s band. Something’s happening here.
– Nick Hasted
– Photos by Lisa Wormsley