Pharoah's Prophecies Pave Way For New Wave Of Spiritual Sentinels At This Year's Love Supreme

Pharoah Sanders LWorms 1

"I've already had my mind blown once today," a geezerish head of a certain age tells his friend. "By that woman there." The cause of his expanded horizons, Nubya Garcia, sits smiling in sweet disbelief nearby. A queue for her signature which takes 30 minutes to dissipate is snaking from a record stall which has just been stripped of her latest EP with locust-like ruthlessness. Outside, it's high summer in England, that rare and precious season when blue skies stay unbroken for weeks during June's longest days, retaining the heat and light. In the beautiful Sussex village of Glynde, the weather is a particular gift, which seems to keep on giving whenever Love Supreme is in town. Garcia's rise is part of a youthful resurgence in UK jazz which the festival has supported during its six years, and is now in its own high season. This fresh talent's correspondence with veterans including Pharoah Sanders, Tony Allen and Dave Holland is this year's story.

Nubya Garcia LWorms

The expansion of both Love Supreme and jazz's horizons is shown by Garcia's presence in an Arena tent which has doubled its capacity to 4,000. She looks exhilarated by the scale of an audience whose enthusiasm pushes her band to escalating heights. Her sax solo seems to accompany the Malian desert sounds of Songhoy Blues as they drift in from the Main Stage. When her band's final high-speed storm detonates, Joe Armon-Jones swirls and slides over the keys with deliberately blowsy excess, and Garcia spans her broad tenor range. The decisive moment comes when Armon-Jones meets Femi Koleoso's trip-beats in abstract drum'n'bass-derived shapes more glisteningly beautiful than any of the cold new corporate towers of their London home. Complex yet gut-punch-direct, the crowd greet it as a victory. And a mind is blown.

Over in the Big Top, they are followed by Tony Allen in majestically melodic mood. Long-time observers bemoan a dimming of the 77-year-old's Afro-beat fire. He is still the polyrhythmic heartbeat of tunes from his Art Blakey tribute The Source, whose soul-jazz traverses 20 years of rhythm evolution without breaking sweat, as a mother and daughter sway in a similarly generation-spanning dance. His sextet's muscular brass and lilting guitar operate in mellow balance with the afternoon sun. 

"Fela Kuti is the king of Nigeria," we're told soon afterwards. "I want you all to party like Nigerians!" Allen might agree with the sentiment, but we're back with the London scene, listening to Femi Koleoso, who has returned to the Arena with Armon-Jones and Ezra Collective. They play the high-energy Afro-beat its inventor Allen now largely eschews, with Armon-Jones again flying high.

Ezra Collective LWorms 1

We might expect many things from Pharoah Sanders, as the white-suited, bearded prophet of spiritual jazz makes his curved-backed, shuffle-skanking way to the stage. Roaring "Oi-oi!" like an Essex geezer would be low on the list, but Sanders at 77 is inscrutably impish. Gene Caldarazzo's press-rolls give his band steaming power when in modal unison. The leader blows forcefully, but rarely, one gentle scream sinking down to a softly burnished tone. His potent closing statement to 'The Creator Has A Master Plan' is less memorable than his lushly romantic approach to the ballad 'A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square', showing how far he's travelled from his 1960s provocations with Coltrane.

Sunday morning dawns at Glynde's soulfully open-minded village church with a reading of a fitting Islamic poem, 'Cast All Your Votes for Dancing'. Ian Shaw follows this in the Big Top with his secular prayer for inclusion and change, 'Shine'. Yazz Ahmed then brings ghosts of electric Miles to her meditative, ritualistic, transporting British-Bahraini music. When a bumper Big Top crowd gathers for Dave Holland/Zakir Hussain/Chris Potter, Hussain's percussion is a sort of sequel to Ahmed, as Ezra was to Allen. His tabla dexterity is the jagged flint on which Holland's equally fleet-fingered bass funk bounces and sparks. Their most intense, rocketing exchange, snaked around by Potter's sinuous soprano sax, is triumphant.

Yazz Ahmed LWorms

Steve Winwood's hammering Hammond grooves on a wonderful, Traffic-heavy set show it doesn't really matter what you call rock music which has all jazz's improvisatory virtues, and early 1960s R&B fire. Mavis Staples' radically loving civil rights soul is a tireless blessing, met in sentiment by a simultaneous set by Keyon Harrold. Ending a soulfully introspective solo, the trumpeter from racially schismed Ferguson, Missouri says: "We shall overcome, right? One day."

In its happy accidents and sacred confluences, Love Supreme still lives up to its name.

– Nick Hasted
– Photos by Lisa Wormsley 

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