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Complete Communion

Complete Communion: The Summer's Jazz Reviewed
Jamie Skey , August 14th, 2014 11:21

In the latest edition of his Complete Communion jazz column, Jamie Skey sings the praises of Melt Yourself Down's (pictured) globally plundered psychedelia live, plus reviews new releases from Jerry Léonide, Interstatic, Tim Garland and more

Over the summer, many of jazz's finest proponents have decamped from dark, intimate clubs to the more substantial stages of both indoor and greenfields festivals - check out Stewart Smith's marvellous high altitude epiphany at Montreux Jazz Festival 2014. Meanwhile, I was lucky enough to immerse myself in the jazz-funk Lollapalooza that is Love Supreme last month, a fine green fields fusion of soul revivalism and modern jazz moves. Read the review below. Also released recently have been the vibrant dances of Mauritian pianist Jerry Léonide's excellent debut The Key and the unhinged Gallic sketches of Pulcinella. Again, see below. So without further ado, dive into the reviving waters of jazz's latest releases.

Love Supreme
Glynde Place, East Sussex, 4-6 July

"So, jazz-funk has its own Glastonbury now," noted acid jazz forebears Incognito's head honcho Jean-Paul Maunick on Saturday, acknowledging Love Supreme's ambitious fusion of soul-slathered musical programming and greenfield good-times. On closer inspection, however, with its focus on boutique chic, retro pop acts and family friendliness, the festival appears to be more of a synthesis of jazz-funk ostentation and Latitude festival; which, as it happens, was more or less what event director Ciro Romano intended from the outset. As Romano told the press last year, it was always his ambition to create "North Sea Jazz meets Latitude". A focused vision, certainly, and one that he and his sponsors have smoothly realised for the second year in a row now.

A "jazz" festival in the loosest sense, Love Supreme caters for every generation and taste, with baseball-capped teens moshing to the melting-pot sounds of of Melt Yourself Down, while mums and dads lark around tipsily to Earth, Wind And Fire and other similarly nostalgia-fuelled bands. All the while, factions of the jazz police can be found lurking among the shadows of the smaller marquees, nodding appreciatively to the "real" thing, be it John Scofield, Dave Holland or Derrick Hodge.

With hip hop backbeats and funk chops dominating the larger stages, New York fusion buccaneers Snarky Puppy show all the dancefloor old hands how far jazz-funk has come since the 1970s - a very long way indeed. Theirs is jazz-rock fusion geared-up for Generation Y - synapse-snapping tempos, super-sized funk riffs and rapid successions of smash cuts. That said, frontman and bassist Michael League and co's barrage of uber-funk isn't the slightest bit rooted in easy-to-swallow formulas and instant gratification. They create thick layers of suspense, thanks to epic build ups and breakdowns and their searing improvisational capabilities. Incognito, meanwhile, are a funky, full-body massage of supple disco riffs and pulsing bass, with their velvety cover of Stevie Wonder's 'Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing' being a particular highlight. Elsewhere, Robert Glasper bassist Derrick Hodge's take on funk is about as abstract as is possible. On tracks like 'Boro March', Hodge and his band deploy spiraling murals of synths that dance around chopped-up bass and wrong-footing drums, all dark, heady and intense.

With all the vivacity and excesses of the day's funk-soul revival, it's a breath of fresh air to witness something more cerebral and introverted, which came in the way of Phronesis. Their urgent yet contained melodies and scattergun rhythms, like a frantic E.S.T, are the perfect antidote to the four-to-the-floor glitz that surround them from every angle. But the true high point of the day comes via jazz-punks Melt Yourself Down's globe-trotting sound, a frenetic marketplace featuring plundered booty from all over the world: afrobeat, ska, rock, dub, jazz and pop. Formed by ex-Acoustic Ladyland saxophonist Pete Wareham, and fronted by MC-cum-voodoo priest Kushal Gaya (of Zun Zun Egui), who stalks about the stage to his band's psychedelic dub-rock squalls like Jim Morrison's Jungian shadow, they're an unstoppable Indiana Jones-sized boulder of a band that crush every genre, not to mention every audience member, that gets in their way.

Jerry Léonide - The Key

Munich label ACT, home to the inimitable likes of Michael Wollny, Yaron Herman and Gwilym Simcock, is revered for its consistently innovative output, yet of late its releases have been uncharacteristically lacking in punch. That's changed with Mauritian pianist Léonide's debut release The Key, a tropical dance of African rhythms and fizzing, impressionistic textures which often sounds like an unplugged Weather Report jamming with The Police, thanks to its cyclical, off-the-cuff rhythms, alto-sax reveries and punchy rock melodies. The small island of Mauritius can't exactly claim to have a thriving music scene, but as Leonide explains in the album's liners: "The people there love music. Mauritius is a land of many different ethnic influences, so we are very open to the most varied of music styles, and a very open-minded audience."  Fittingly, this stunning debut is crammed with joie de vivre and crystal-clear melodies, vividly evoking the Indian Ocean-lying island paradise. A clearly realised and passionate debut.

Interstatic - Arise
(Rare Noise)

Very broadly speaking, Nordic jazz nestles into two opposing, but often complementary, mindsets: on the one hand there are the intense, avant-garde freak outs courtesy of Supersilent and The Thing; on the other the smooth-contoured spiritualism of Jan Garbarek and Tord Gustavsen. Raggedy jam-band trio Interstatic find middle ground between both styles, while never falling between the two stools, though it has to be said that they largely veer towards the heavier, more improvisational side of things. British born organist, the Gandalf-alike Roy Powell, and flexible sometime Supersilent drummer Jarle Vespestad, bring grit and absurdity to blues-infused grunge beast 'Doozy Mugwump Blues', the madly torqued 'Caerbannog' and fuzz-slathered ode to Zappa, 'Frank'll Fix It'. ECM guitarist Jacob Young's usual pristine voice is put on the backburner for this set of absurd fusion shred fests, but he does bring fleeting moments of introspection to 'Iwato' and 'In The Beginning'.

Tim Garland - Songs To The North Sky

Brit soul-saxophonist Tim Garland's music, whether solo or as part of an outfit, has consistently been as open to the elements as to various strands of jazz and classical. This thrillingly painterly double album continues this tradition of conjuring up moody landscapes with a broad sonic palette - and it could very well be his most absorbing canvas yet. Everything from Celtic dances to fusion, from free improvisation to classical grandiosity, are blended together to create walk-in impressions of Garland's adopted home of north east England. Disc 1, entitled Lighthouse finds Garland's small Lighthouse band, featuring the detailed, lyrical voices of pianist Jason Rebello and guitarist Ant Law, reaching towards the level of the Pat Metheny Group in terms of scale, precision, melodicism and emoting grace. But it's the second half of the set, Songs To The North Sky that takes the cake, thanks to Garland's (much like Metheny) heroic abilities to compose, orchestrate, improvise and create spaces in which his comrades break new ground, all with seamless ease.

Pulcinella - Bestiole

Baltic-sounding bands are often the life and soul of the party, and French sax-and-accordion led japesters Pulcinella are no different. Except their version of having a knees up is more hectic and deranged than most. Theirs is a cartoonish brand of Gallic fusion that mixes folk dances, sneering punk energy, tango, Eastern European flavours and jazz improvisation, which in total is reminiscent of a stripped down, French version of Loose Tubes sharing a fair few libations with Led Bib. Opener 'Garez Vous Chez Dan L'allee Vous Emmerdez Tout Le Monde' is a jumpy barnburner that deploys maniacal sax and accordion dialogues, propelled by frenetically brushed rhythms and stocky bass.