Love Supreme festival – mindful, vivacious, beguiling: jazz in infinite variety

Glynde Place, East Sussex
From Chick Corea and Jimmy Cliff to Theon Cross, musicians known and new entertained a record 50,000 people

Whatever jazz is (and the jury’s been out on that for over a century), most of the genres touched by that African/European chameleon down the decades bear the same telltale traces – suppleness of pitch and rhythm, individual and collective improvisation, call and response, powerful percussion. Europe’s biggest greenfield jazz festival, Love Supreme, has now been blowing those stories across the sleepy South Downs village of Glynde for seven successful years, through the work of almost every kind of contemporary musician. More than 50,000 punters get the message in 2019, a record for the event.

Beguiling … Chick Corea’s Spanish Heart Band performing at Love Supreme, July 2019.
Beguiling … Chick Corea’s Spanish Heart Band performing at Love Supreme, July 2019. Photograph: Tabatha Fireman/Redferns

Two Saturday headliners, the UK’s Cinematic Orchestra, and vivacious reggae septuagenarian Jimmy Cliff, provide one of the day’s most startling contrasts. The former gradually draw a crowd of the converted and the curious into its web of gently chiming melodies, ambient organs, spine-tingling loop-assisted sax improvisations from Tom Chant, and cool eloquence from singer Heidi Vogel. The focus is their 2019 comeback album To Believe, a mindful invitation to listeners to “stop, look, listen and feel” in a frenetic and fragmented world, as co-founder Jason Swinscoe has said. But in his own way, Cliff – resplendent in a regal gold hat, and delightedly veering into stately limb-flailing dances – does the same by rekindling his classic hits (Vietnam, The Harder They Come, Many Rivers to Cross) of community, emotional pain and joy, and politics, and setting the crowd in the palm of his hand in the evening sunshine.

Elsewhere, vibraphonist Orphy Robinson’s fine tribute to Van Morrison’s album Astral Weeks remains true to its source in the blues/gospel vocals of Jo Harman, Sahra Gure and Joe Cang, and to jazz spontaneity in its freewheeling solos. Chick Corea’s Spanish Heart Band is a little glitzily over-arranged, but the 77-year-old’s keyboard playing is as beguiling as always, and the simmering, flamenco-steeped tunes span the brooding and the coquettish. The polar opposite of coquettish, however, is the grooving, thunderously danceable music of tuba maestro Theon Cross, with saxophonist Chelsea Carmichael and drummer Benjamin Appiah, in the Arena tent’s foggy, clublike atmosphere – confirmation, if any was needed, of just why the young UK jazz renaissance is having such a bold impact.


John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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