Love Supreme Fest Showcases Range of UK, American Jazz Talent

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Shabaka Hutchings performs a July 3 set with Sons of Kemet and Nubya Garcia at England’s Love Supreme festival.

(Photo: Chloe)

Following two years of cancellations, Britain’s only outdoor jazz festival triumphantly returned July 1–3 for a sold-out weekend of genre-stretching performances in the sun-soaked fields of Sussex.

While top-billed acts like Erykah Badu, Sister Sledge and TLC performed their R&B and hip-hop influenced hits to help pull in an age-diverse crowd of more than 75,000 people over the weekend, Love Supreme equally showcased a range of the U.K. and America’s most exciting jazz talent across its stages.

The Saturday afternoon set from Manchester bandleader and Gondwana Records founder Matthew Halsall proved a particular highlight and demonstrated the free-flowing range of influences that has given the U.K.’s jazz scene its own flavor in recent years. Backed by a seven-piece band including a harpist and additional percussion, trumpeter Halsall opened with his paean to the music of the natural world, “Harmony With Nature,” taken from his 2020 album Salute To The Sun. Building a thick atmosphere with glissandos of harp, shakers and rustling rain sticks, Halsall’s trumpet entered the composition like a melodic clarion call, immediately holding his sizable indoor crowd rapt, before sitting back to allow the undulating groove of his rhythm section and soloists to take over.

This almost self-effacing capacity allowed Halsall’s expansive compositions ample and necessary breathing room — showcasing the interlocking rhythms of drummer Alan Taylor and Jack McCarthy on percussion, as well as harpist Maddie Herbert’s meditative melodies on “Salute To The Sun.” Drawing to a close with the deep swing and keening melodies of “Patterns,” Halsall treated the crowd to a celebratory blast of his band in full flow, meandering from touches of Alice Coltrane’s spiritual jazz to the might of Kenny Wheeler’s big band sound.

Another standout set that traded heavily on the formative influences of musical forebears came from New York-based alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa on Sunday. Playing as part of his Hero Trio, Mahanthappa paid tribute to a wide range of artists in his densely packed set, including Charlie Parker, Stevie Wonder and Keith Jarrett. Mahanthappa’s muscular technique proved that no influence was too unwieldy for his fingers, ensuring that he blasted through Parker’s “Red Cross,” before slowing to an artful interpolation of Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” and Jarrett’s “The Windup.” Having spent much of the past two years at home with his children, Mahanthappa also made a brilliant example of the fact that creativity can often be found in the least likely of places: through appropriating the infectious theme of his kids’ favorite video game, Animal Crossing, in a newly improvised composition. The result was crisp and delicate — an emblem of the refined taste his Hero Trio displayed during their runtime.

Across the arena in the Big Top, another altoist was similarly plucking threads of melodic inspiration from his surroundings. Gary Bartz put on a typically deft display of communal musicianship alongside the London-based backing band Maisha. Although there are decades of age difference between Bartz and his group, the atmosphere was deeply familiar, with drummer Jake Long leading proceedings while Bartz dipped in with his vibrato-laden saxophone lines. More so than his instrumentation, though, it was Bartz’s rich vocal that gave the set its most memorable moments, singing longingly on “I’ve Known Rivers” and leading the buoyant crowd in a closing singalong on “The Song Of Loving-Kindness.”

To round out the weekend, the energy kicked up several gears with one of the final-ever performances from U.K. powerhouse group Sons of Kemet, featuring a special guest appearance from saxophonist Nubya Garcia and her band. Multiplying each aspect of their respective groups — two saxes, double bass, tuba and three drummers — the result was revelatory. Already known for their rhythmic intricacy, Sons of Kemet drummers Tom Skinner and Eddie Hick interlocked seamlessly with Garcia’s drummer Sam Jones to create a torrent of polyrhythms that served to bolster the percussive, looping lines of saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings. As the bands pushed each other to new heights of dynamism and power, especially on Sons of Kemet’s clattering composition “My Queen Is Albertina Sisulu,” Garcia equally held her own, emphatically trading fours with Hutchings and expanding on her own single “The Source” to reach euphoric, dance floor-focused territory.

With only a handful of summer shows left to play, it was a privilege to catch Sons of Kemet before their unfortunate disbanding, although it seems Garcia and her group are already more than capable of carrying their mantle of energetic improvisation forward into the future. It is a development we shall eagerly await to be performed, hopefully in the fields at next year’s Love Supreme. DB



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