Arguably the UK's biggest jazz festival returns with another stellar lineup to savour over a sunny weekend in the South Downs
For many in the UK, the annual summer festival circuit means Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds, and Download. But since its inauguration in 2013 and now into its seventh successive year, the Love Supreme Jazz Festival has slowly built up a profile as one of the biggest festivals in the UK with its rich mix of the current UK Jazz scene along with a fair share of major headline acts to counter-balance. 2019 cemented this fact as it set a record breaking attendance with more than 50,000 jazz enthusiasts descending into the sleepy village of Glynde, and a lineup that truly lived up to its status.
Friday night’s headliner GoGo Penguin set the tone for what was to follow – the 2014 Mercury prize nominated trio from Manchester riffing through a collection of tracks from their four albums to date including a visceral rendition of ‘One Percent’ – as the crowd grooved and whooped to a slick, stylish performance. Early on in the day, Flash Mob Jazz provided some tasteful renditions of well known pop hits, even if there was a hint of Postmodern Jukebox about them, that featured an upswing take of John Legend’s ‘All of Me’ and a slowed down bluesy version of Ernie K. Doe’s ‘Here Come the Girls’ which were refreshing and immensely enjoyable to a nearly full Arena tent.
Saturday morning was greeted by sweltering temperatures and a diverse slate of acts that covered an array of genres within jazz, and also countries too. In the Arena tent, there was upcoming Norwegian 8-piece band Fieh led by the charismatic singer Sofie Tollefsbøl, who was pleasantly surprised by the mass turnout for their 45 minute set: ‘they said we were playing on one of the smaller stages’ she remarks at one point. From recent released singles ‘Brain’ and ‘Flower’, it’s clear the influences of D’Angelo and Erykah Badu are proudly worn on their sleeve, but their infectious stage presence and ear worm melodies set them apart as one of the more memorable acts of the weekend – the song ‘Glu’ being an instant download onto my music library afterwards. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for Louie Vega & The Elements of Life – the 54 year old DJ from The Bronx striding onto stage with the soul aim to ‘take you around the world’. Despite a well drilled band and some thrilling vocal performances, it wasn’t helped by sound mixing problems that resulted in some vocal melodies not being heard along with some very unmemorable tunes to go with it all.
However, as the sun slowly set in the evening, the Big Top tent played host to two of the most anticipated sets of the whole weekend: Jazz pianist legend Chick Corea and Brooklyn instrumental group Snarky Puppy. Playing to one of the largest crowds at the festival, Corea appeared onstage, along with his newly formed ‘Spanish Heart Band’, in a casual plain green shirt and Nike jacket as though he was playing a warm-up gig as they blitzed through four extended cuts – each one ending in euphoric cheer – giving equal opportunities to show off each band member’s dazzling skills and featuring some passionate exhilarating dancing from Nino De Los Reyes. At times, it was utterly breathtaking and captivating as the 78 year old had the audience in the palm of his hand and when they encored to his famous track ‘Spain’, only he could produce a crowd singalong to essentially an instrumental composition. It was a tough act for Snarky Puppy to follow, which group leader Michael League admitted was ‘terrifying’, but after a slow start their groovy sound won everyone over with pieces like ‘Xavi’ and ‘Bad Kids to the Back’, proving themselves as one of the most exciting acts in jazz today and why they will be performing at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall later this year. Well done Michael and co!
Sunday rolled around soon enough and after a brief spell of rain, the ground luckily stayed dry for another cracking day of music. From hearing Jeremy Sassoon’s Ray Charles Project at their lunchtime slot on the main stage, you would’ve thought the deceased RnB pioneer was still here in terms of how remarkably similar pianist Sassoon’s voice is to him and their humble tribute to Charles was emphatically entertaining, not least because couples young and old around me were swaying their hips and jiving to their barnstorming set and it highlighted an important aspect about Love Supreme that sets it apart from others. The timeless crossover-appeal that jazz has to many generations and just a singalong to ‘Hit the Road Jack’ was enough evidence.
After a brief detour in watching Brazilian-Norwegian singer Charlotte Dos Santos perform a weird but wonderful version of Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Red Clay’, which was hypnotic to say the least, it was onto BRIT Critics Choice nominee Mahalia who unsurprisingly attracted a vast majority of the young crowd in attendance. In slight similarity to Lewis Capaldi’s fast rise to success, there is an undeniable impression that just one song will catapult her into the charts, with some of the songs almost verging onto cliche territory, but apart from the slightly pop brand instrumentation on display, there is definite potential with her silky, stirring voice that will develop more intrigue for her upcoming second studio album. Watch this space!
Jamie Cullum was the predecessor for Sunday night’s headliner and given that there were a moderate number of doubters, like myself, curious enough to know if he still has any relatable value, he used his hour long set to prove otherwise. Showcasing some new material alongside playing a few covers – a raw acoustic mash-up of ‘Ex-Factor’ and ‘Nice for What’ was a definite highlight – the former GQ Man of the Year went all-out, as though he was topping the bill, with virtuosic improvisation on the piano, crowd participation as everyone happily obliged to deliriously jump around during one bit, and bearing such a commanding aura onstage it’s strange to think how he slipped through the cracks in the mid-00s following on from his breakout album Twentysomething. It’s a shame I couldn’t remember most of the songs he did, but have no doubt this won’t be the last we see or hear of him.
All of which leads to the biggest name on this year’s poster and the final act of the weekend: Ms Lauryn Hill. Subsequent from a somewhat disappointing appearance at Glastonbury earlier this month (hindered by sound issues), Lauryn Hill made absolutely certain this wouldn’t happen again, up very early on Sunday morning doing her sound check if that wasn’t convincing enough to any sceptics. As usual, she was half an hour late, but time wasn’t wasted thanks to her tour DJ (DJ Reborn) pumping the crowd up beforehand, and gone 9:15pm, out stepped the former Fugees member in a stunning white dress and hat to a mighty roar from the festival crowd. Clearly she was overwhelmed emotionally by the occasion as at one point she went to the side to compose herself again, but that didn’t stop her from delivering an unforgettable 90 minutes as she swept her demons at Worthy Farm a fortnight ago to one side.
Her band have beefed up a few tracks from Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and even though this has been met with fair criticism, it felt rejuvenating and brought new meaning to her lyrics written over 20 years ago. ‘Lost Ones’s retrospective account of a break up aftermath is sung with much more aggression and fire than before – some juicy reharmonisation to go along with was an added bonus – and ‘Final Hour’ (Hill rapping how superficial achievements mean nothing compared to God’s judgement) is built up to a climax like her life has led to this moment. It’s thrilling and powerful to watch in long periods and when she finished with ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ as well as the one-two punch ‘Killing me Softly’ and ‘Ready Or Not’, you can’t help but gape in awe at an artist in their own element and showing she still has plenty to give despite not releasing new music for over 10 years. It was a tremendous way to close Love Supreme 2019, and there is in all likelihood that I will be returning to the South Downs next year with no hesitation.