Ray Carless wows with Windrush jazz celebration at The Vortex



The Windrush Scandal has been one of the biggest stories circulating in the UK media in 2018 – a litany of bureaucratic errors and ugly policies that have made life here unbearable for many people of Caribbean origin and descent. As Jamaican-born Ray Carless and his band enter full swing during The Vortex jazz club's 'Windrush Jazz' night, any thought of Theresa May's 'hostile environment' seems faintly absurd, a strangely antagonistic policy when contrasted with music that is so unabashedly welcoming and joyous.

Carless leads a five-piece band, each one of them introduced as a "Windrush baby", brought together for the night to tear through a set of ska, reggae and calypso-infused jazz. It's undeniably foot-tapping stuff, if not more, shown by the dance-floor of sorts that has formed at the back of the room by the end of the night.

Event organiser DJ Sapphire makes sure that no momentum is lost at the half-way stage, spinning smooth jazz and soul before gearing up for an impressive cameo on vocals in the second half.

The music is by turns skittery and deep in the pocket, always irresistibly lively and essentially happy. Even normally languorous bossa nova tunes such as Tom Jobim's 'Desafinado' are transformed by this Caribbean juggernaut of a band into the sort of upbeat jam that could be prescribed as an anti-depressant. Guitarist Cameron Pierre often comes within an E-string of stealing the show, mixing blues licks with Wes Montgomery-style octaves and spiky, all-out-jazz runs.

As the final bars of a rendition of Fela Kuti's 'Colonial Mentality' fade away, many in the crowd are reluctant to leave, wanting to hear more music. Like many small music venues, The Vortex is beleaguered by near-constant financial pressure. Nights like this, imbued as they are with a genuine sense of community, underline how important it is that the such venues should continue to exist.

– James Rybacki