Chick Corea, Snarky Puppy, SEED Ensemble and Lauryn Hill uplift at Love Supreme

Love Supreme’s seventh year continues its unique strengths, as an up-to-the-minute bulletin on the state of (mostly) UK and US jazz, an icon or two and a crowd-drawing Main Stage of soul, reggae and funk interweave beneath the largely sun-drenched South Downs.

Following on from Herbie Hancock in 2017, Chick Corea (above) plays Saturday’s Big Top. This is no ‘legends’ spot, though, as reverence and reputation are blitzed by a hugely entertaining show built around his new Spanish Heart Band’s album, Antidote. Their version of Paco de Lucia’s ‘Zyryab’ begins with Corea in semi-classical mode, before the brass section moves dramatically centre-stage, inevitably recalling Gil Evans’ Sketches of Spain arrangements. The secret weapon, though, is toreador flamenco-dancer Nino de los Reyes, who stalks and pounds the stage with ferocious pride, detonating crowd delight. Their exceptional roars of appreciation aren’t simply for the 77-year-old Corea’s presence, but for the grand show he puts on. When he encores with Return to Forever’s ‘Spain’, not only its famous riffs but even a modest percussion break are sung back, football-style. Corea, the humblest, mildest man in the room, makes a sashaying, finger-snapping exit: a wordless “Ole!”

Snarky Puppy 11 small

Snarky Puppy (above) follow, answering detractors of their recent smoother records with a set which features much of current LP Immigrance, while incorporating all their virtues. Even tonight’s relatively trim nonet has so many moving, overlapping parts that ‘Chonks’, for instance, gains a rough, unruly edge, its guitar shredding slapped aside by a brass climax, as the very notion of solos is squeezed by this road-band’s remorseless needs.

The London scene’s latest talents meanwhile form a Jazz Arena triple-bill. Maisha favour the simmering and miasmic, loosely navigating paths with destinations barely known to themselves. The recognisable, rise-and-release shape of dance music keeps the crowd onside, as it does for Theon Cross’s triumphant tuba revelations (below). The Steam Down club night more fully transplants South London to the South Downs, occasional cheerful ineptness part of its wide-open charm.

Theon Cross 8 small

Sunday dawns for some with Yusef Lateef’s ‘Like It Is’ being played beneath a poetic communion prayer at Glynde’s village church, vicar Peter Owen Jones’ words riding between the sax as spiritual jazz finds a fitting home. Cassie Kinoshi’s SEED Ensemble provide similar soul food for early Big Top listeners, with ska brass lifting up ‘Interplanetary Migration’. The sight of Kinoshi marshalling her large band through her complex Driftglass suite is moving in itself. Young black women weren’t at the heart of British jazz, even three years ago, as they are now. Like the women finding ways to dance everywhere here to music from hard bop to Caravan Palace’s electro swing, a heartening change has come, partly stimulated by Love Supreme.

The new British scene’s Achilles’ heel is, though, laid bare by Joe Armon-Jones, a thrilling sideman, but a bandleader prone to indulgent jams only the very stoned will survive. Fellow keyboardist Kamaal Williams’ 1970s sci-fi-style keyboard freakery over mantric or broken beats is a more exciting hybrid. Orphy ‘Vibes’ Robinson’s faithful take on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks meanwhile finds his vocalists inevitably wanting.

If US reverence for its jazz tradition can seem a quagmire compared to the UK’s current all-embracing vigour, the Christian Sands Trio offer contrasting, enduring virtues. Monk’s ‘Evidence’ makes the ground seem less straight, Sands’ woozy, close piano chords taking tiny staccato steps as the music is shrunk and stripped to its rhythmic bone, before a brilliant segue into the runaway swing of ‘I Got Rhythm’, Jerome Jennings’ cymbal-smashes marking the path Sands hurtles down. Chicagoan drummer Makaya McCraven more obviously takes from other music such as hip hop, and is notable for the hard, hypnotic heartbeat of his slow-brewed sounds.

The Main Stage saw reggae giant Jimmy Cliff (above) at his most crowd-pleasing, and a closing set from hip hop and soul maverick Lauryn Hill, who has been in some sort of wayward recording limbo for 21 years. Any Billie Holiday fan would recognise the worn, raw truth of her performance. Voice roughened and short of breath, her Fugees hit ‘Ready Or Not’ has its old threat inverted, to become a defiant statement that she isn’t beaten. Such honest, difficult emotion should find a home at any jazz festival, and makes a moving finale here.

– Nick Hasted

Photos by Tatiana Gorilovsky

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