Jacob Collier review – jazz's new messiah

Ronnie Scott’s, London

20-year-old Collier gave a staggering, unique performance. Sharing the bill, pianist Justin Kauflin’s obvious talent also impressed

When His Holiness Quincy Jones comes to the sacred temple that is Ronnie Scott’s to introduce two artists that he’s been mentoring, you’d expect a kind of papal blessing. What followed was more like the arrival of jazz music’s new messiah.

North Londoner Jacob Collier has just turned 20. He looks like a shy boyband member, can sing like an angel, beatbox like a pro, and spends his 40-minute set leaping between synths, Steinway grand, bass guitar, drum kit, melodica and percussion. But that’s barely the start of it. What’s remarkable is how he creates a digital one-man band using contemporary technology: multitrack recording, looping pedals, and a strange Vocoder-like program that enables him to sing audacious harmonies through a Novation keyboard, like a one-man Swingle Singers.

Collier sometimes recalls beatboxing singer Jamie Lidell, or Stevie Wonder’s synth-funk explorations with Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff, while his broken-beat drumming and behind-the-pulse bass playing on Close to Me are reminiscent of J Dilla’s “slugging” style. Along with the remarkable covers that have been viewed millions of times on YouTube, he plays a drumless version of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile and a new reading of Michael Jackson’s PYT as a tribute to “my main man” Quincy (who is sitting in the audience next to Cleethorpes’ own Rod Temperton). It’s a staggering, unique performance.

“There is no human who can adequately follow what just happened,” says the pianist Justin Kauflin, who nonetheless has that unfortunate task. Born in Virginia and blind since the age of 11, Kauflin stars in the award-winning documentary film Keep on Keepin’ On, which shows how he was mentored by the trumpeter Clark Terry in Terry’s final years. Kauflin plays chunky gospel chords, improvises with clarity and writes strong melodies, while he and his trio often play that Robert Glasper trick of sounding like a hip-hop sample. Under Quincy’s papal stewardship, jazz is still blessed with young talent.


John Lewis

The GuardianTramp

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