Quincy Jones presents the future of music with Jacob Collier and Justin Kauflin at Ronnie Scott's

Quincy

Quincy Jones is in the house. That fact alone should tell you something about the quality of music that was about to happen, and the house itself was Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club – named after a musician who Jones himself had welcomed into his band in Paris some 60 years ago. Seated causally among the front stalls of the club his enthusiasm for music is clearly as sharp as ever as he introduced the first of tonight’s prodigies as a “talent like no other I’ve seen before”. And while Jones is music royalty at the age of 82 he’s now mentoring the next generation of über-talent – he has some 15 young stars on his roster – none more so that 20-year old Jacob Collier, the multi-tracking video hacking wonder boy from Muswell Hill.

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Collier’s YouTube videos are brilliant yet bewildering as multiple incarnations of himself simultaneously create 14-part vocal harmonies and play a daunting number of instruments – clearly this was always going to be a challenge to reproduce live on stage. Yet thanks to his connection with Jones, Collier’s all-encompassing vision has been brought to life by a kindred-spirit in the world of advanced music tech, in the form of Ben Bloomberg of MIT in Massachusetts. He’s created a highly sensitive vocal harmonisation unit and found a way to seamlessly blend real-time performance with sophisticated backing tracks – while enabling Collier to loop various percussion, bass and keyboard parts on-the-fly without any awkward computer glitches. Adding in the video elements to all this was the ace in Collier’s pack, with a live image of himself projected onto a screen at the back of the stage. This was taken to another dimension when he began playing vocalised chords, each key produced its own Jacob face – momentarily creating a virtual choir that perfectly matched his oohs and ahs. If that was clever then more was to come as he began bouncing Tigger-like from one instrument to the next, on opener ‘Don’t You Worry Bout A Thing’, the smart video technology capturing each successive sample, then, like the music, looped the video in place. The result being a small group of Jacobs playing like a virtual band on the screen behind – and all credit to Will Young and Louis Mustill from Artists and Engineers, who created the technology to do this.

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Yet this wasn’t just about the technology, this was about enhancing a singular talent of our time. For while we live in an age where, in music at least, digital tools are often used to patch up or fix less than perfect ‘performances’, in the hands of a talent such as Collier’s it’s there to take his musical vision to mind-blowing new heights. Collier’s approach thus far has been to take songs from the 20th century and give them a full 21st century makeover – here deconstructing and reconstructing the likes of ‘Don’t You Worry…’, ‘Close To You’, ‘PYT’, ‘Smile’ and ‘Fascinating Rhythm’ with effortless abandon. His J Dilla-fication of the Carpenters’ ‘Close To You’ saw him grab a bass guitar and proceed to lay down the skankiest of funk bass lines with a perfectly lopsided feel that any hardened hip hopper would approve of. Quincy Jones’ own ‘PYT’ from Michael Jackon’s Thriller album (one of the album’s song writers Rod Temperton was also in the house tonight), was duly given the Collier treatment in a drum and percussion heavy mash-up, while a melancholic ‘Smile’ was the perfect low-key antidote for all of the former’s excess. Gershwin’s ‘Fascinating Rhythm’ may be 90 years old but again Collier took the tune way out into his own fascinating musical realm – moving from beatboxing, to angular overlaid vocal harmonies, a melodica solo, clubby beats and then a piano solo – all in the space of a couple of minutes. This is serious music that puts a massive grin on your face – and Collier should rightly have the world at his feet in years to come.

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Jones’ other prodigy, 29-year old pianist Justin Kauflin, was understandably a touch reticent after such a wildly virtuosic display, “no human should have to follow that,” he said grinning modestly. Kauflin however is a young master himself, a sublimely sensitive virtuoso – blind since age 11 due exudative retinopathy – yet in no way constrained by his disability. Joined by his trio of bassist Christopher Smith and drummer Billy Williams, Kauflin played music from his Quincy Jones-produced debut Dedication, which was rich in dynamic detail and showed off his cogent mix influences that ranged from buoyant swing to elongated Jarrett-esque lines, the odd hip hop nod to Robert Glasper, Bill Evans was in there too.

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While the originals showed he’s also a writer of substance – his ‘Dedication Suite’ in particular packed in odd-meters and crunchy counterpoint lines – it was his imaginative rearrangement of The Beatles’ ‘A Day In The Life’ that brought the best out of the trio. Heading into some broken-beat territory with Williams placing Collier’s tambourine over his hi-hat, and bassist Smith laying into some staccato behind-the-beat grooves, suddenly Kauflin was sailing into a wholly contemporary zone. This may have been a back to basics piano trio set – devoid of the technical pizazz of Collier – yet Kauflin is clearly in possession of a vast reserve of free flowing musicianship that is also testimony to Jones’ ear for the next big thing.

– Mike Flynn

– Photos by Carl Hyde

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