Arriving somewhat delayed on the Saturday, I rushed to catch Cinematic Orchestra – the byword for quality and eclecticism – on the main stage. Let me attempt to describe: drum’n’bass rhythms, then ambience and soulful vocals. Looping layering saxophones reach a noise threshold, then the electric piano edges through, the bass wells up and “How Near How far” is sung. “Channel 1 Suite” is next – building to a screeching sax climax before the mellow ending. Another soaring, soulful song follows –
but for me it’s off to…
Snarky Puppy. At their blandest about as exciting as a Werthers Original… All the jazz tropes are here, but the cavernous Big Top and mushy mix on the sound system don’t help. Then as the set progresses, the sound fills out. Yeah, they got better! Cheese wins in the end – the band and the audience have a thing with clapping (my bugbear) – so for the last number the punters are schooled and bass cued.
After the stages finished I tried Louis Vegas’ house DJ set – which definitely got my weary feet moving. The light drizzle didn’tdampen spirits, but gradually soaked some of the less well prepared punters. And so to a tiny steam-filled tent tucked in amongst the huge canvas palaces and mega-gazebos, to continue the night’s revelry.
We were woken by the smell of searing pig-flesh and noisy neighbours, but somehow still managing to lie in until midday. As the weather cooled, Jeremy Sassoon’s’ Ray Charles project did an expert job of recreating the great man’s music – though introducing “Georgia” as one of his more obscurenumbers felt slightly forced. The swinging big band feel and tasty piano and voice from the bandleader went down well with the lunchtime crowd.
Surprise “guilty pleasure” was Lee John of Imagination. The superb musicianship and sweet falsetto vocals had just the right balance of soul and funk. “Flashback” and “Body Talk” (yes, it was 39 years ago) – were complemented by Bob Marley’s “One Love”. Finally crowd-pleasing “Just an Illusion” arrives after some deliberately teasing false starts. Great!
A quick sprint over to the Big Top and the tight jazz-funk of London keyboard maestro Kamaal Williams felt like the perfect next step. Top notch drumming and deep bass underpinned the fluid and expressive sax. Fast paced and propulsive, the climax of screeching and in turns melodic and
scribbly horn had the crowd enraptured. Not to miss the psychedelic keyboard work that combined tinkly piano with analog swirls. Next the band head in a more old-school direction – chilling slightly aimlessly until the funk returns. With a finale that name-checks influences across jazz and house and is a vehicle for incredible percussion. This set was truly outstanding.
A few paces brought me to The Bandstand where New Generation Jazz artists were playing a fully-scored world-exclusive piece. I recommend checking out the NGJ programme at The Verdict jazz club in Brighton. Shame that the disco from the kids area impinged on the sound.
A quick snatch of Mahalia at the Main Stage and a lengthy but rewarding queue at Lalita’s Vegan South Indian stall for a cup of stomach-settling soymilk chai – and then it was back to the Big Top for Madelaine Peyroux and some country-jazz. With songs ranging from the highly topical and political to full-on blues, this was a really mixed bag. “A Honey Party” popped along for an attempted sing-along “Dance me To the End of Love” finally got the crowd going – with an up-tempo tightness.
Unfortunately the next number heads back up-country. Unusually the hugely appreciative (though by now half-capacity) audience manages to extract a Chuck Berry number “Cool Breeze” as an encore.
The brilliant interplay of keyboards bass and sax elevates the tradition-based jazz of Joe Armon-Jones to the next level. Continuing with the new single “Icy Roads (Stacked)” from the forthcoming album, and then a more improvised section from the man on the ivories – solid kicks and sax propel the applauding crowd. They are then joined by a vocalist for a tirade against Grenfell and the reggae of “War In a Babylon” led by the horn section. Indeed, “let the trumpet sound”. Ace.
The phenomenal energy and inventiveness of Caravan Palace comes in a myriad of styles and genre mash-ups. Gypsy swing rubs shoulders with dubstep – all served up with a streetwise jazz-hop sensibility. Moving on with a broken-beat opened song in French/English and then swingstyle with some amazing dancing. The next number has three keyboards and pummelling drums overlaid with some tasty sax. But there is more: a slow and sweet duet…
…but I can’t stay – Lauryn Hill is meant to have already started on the main Stage, and I am being dragged away. Except when we get there it’s DJ Reborn working the crowd – though it feels worth the wait – promising what Gladys Knight narrowly failed to do the night before. Aided by brilliant guitarwork, top VJing with plenty of retro footage – from BMXers to Black Power – Hill held the audience in the palm of her hand. Slipping effortlessly into a love song – sliced through at the middle eight with more searing fretwork; really setting the number on fire at the end too. A version of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” limply follows, redeemed once again by the guitarist. “To Zion” follows, showcasing the backing singers. Getting youngster Princess K (the 10 year old who danced with Stormzy at Glastonbury) dancing on stage rather changed the focus – no longer a Miseducation
recreation. “Ready or Not” closes proceedings, with most of the younger parents already having left with their families to get home by bedtime. And Home too, for this reviewer, tired but happy – after a vintage year for Love Supreme.