Love Supreme is Britain's only camping jazz festival, and now in its third year, it's really kicked up a gear. From its conception, the festival has attracted the highest calibre of jazz and soul - with Robert Glasper, Marcus Miller, Laura Mvula and Jamie Cullum among the last two years' line ups - and this year's line up is even better with headliners Van Morrison and Chaka Khan, and fresh international acts such as Bill Laurance Project and Hiatus Kaiyote. Held in the beautiful grounds of Glynde Place, it's a particularly relaxed and friendly event with a capacity of around 10,000 people, and this year it struck exactly the right balance of top class music and party zeal.
I previously criticised a tendency for Love Supreme to feel a little like a series of jazz gigs in a picturesque field, but this year the structure of the festival has changed sufficiently and it feels for the first time like a contender among Britain's best small festivals. The three large stages remain where they were last year, but the Bandstand stage has been moved out of its former spot in the woods and into the ‘village' area of food stalls, helping establish a carnival feel which had perhaps been lacking before. It divides up the site in a much more interesting way, and provides far better exposure for new and local bands hosted there.
It's scorching hot when we arrive on Friday afternoon, and the Arena is programmed well that evening with music from The Studio 9 Orchestra, who smash arrangements of Radiohead and Maria Schneider tunes, followed by the enormously energetic The Brass Funkeys, the UK's answer to Youngblood Brass Band.
We boogie to sparkling Latin grooves from Son Guarachando as the sun goes down, and then head to the brand new Blue In Green bar, now taking the space in the woods previously occupied by the Bandstand and hosted tonight by Mr Bongo Sound System. This is another upgrade from last year - it’s genuinely interesting electronic music, providing an alternative late night party to the fairly unexciting nostalgia in the Arena hosted by Jazz FM’s Funky Sensations DJs. Both venues are buzzing, though, so top marks to the festival for catering to its increasingly diverse audience.
On Saturday, avoiding the crooners on the main stage, we wander to the Big Top stage instead. Today's line up opens with forward-thinking American jazz trio The Bad Plus with guest saxophonist Joshua Redman, whose combined imaginative forces result in an explosive fusion of stirring harmonies and scattering polyrhythms. Their exceptional musicianship carries a performance which communicates crackling energy and pre-meditated anarchy to a pleasingly large midday crowd.
There's a number of impressive female artists throughout today, beginning with impeccable grooves from rising star Andrea Motis whose relaxed and assured trumpet solos sound like an extension of her enchanting voice. Back in the Arena, Blue-Eyed Hawk display an original and inventive junction of jazz and psychedelia; Lauren Kinsella's ethereal vocals work perfectly in tandem with Laura Jurd's effortlessly soaring trumpet lines. Unfortunately it's slightly disrupted by noise bleeding from Omar's set on the main stage, but the music is engaging enough to retain our attention. The weather is still gorgeous, and while strolling to get food from one of the many excellent vendors near the Bandstand we stop to catch Kudu Blue, whose set sits in a sweet spot between RnB and trip hop; certainly a band to keep an eye on.
Bill Laurance Project is cinematic and enthralling, but we only see the first couple of tunes, due to a clash with Get The Blessing in the Arena. Bristol's best recent jazz export, their punchy, groove-heavy set swings with ease and sets the mood well for Gogo Penguin, another cutting edge British band. The trio's exhilarating communication and innovation is a joy to watch, and a personal highlight of the festival.
Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, divides opinion in the Big Top on Saturday; he is undeniably an exceptional player, but I struggle to decipher his idiom, and find the groove too messy and unpredictable to lock into easily. Much more emotionally immediate is Terence Blanchard's E-Collective, who storms the Big Top on Sunday afternoon. The New Orleans trumpeter is known for his politically conscious music, and at the beginning of his set he announces that all the music from his new album Breathless is inspired by the powerful #blacklivesmatter campaign, which receives a huge cheer from the audience. The adrenaline of his rhythm section drives the set's kaleidoscopic funk grooves and supports Blanchard's beautifully idiosyncratic playing; it is bittersweet without being sentimental, life-affirming without being platitudinous.
Our Saturday night party starts with the superbly tight Submotion Orchestra, but, not being in the mood for Chaka Khan, we choose Jason Moran in the Big Top instead. This paid off - his reimagining of Fats Waller tunes is fantastic (as is his giant papier mache Fats Waller mask), although let down in delivery as the vocals were somewhat lost in the big tent, a problem which pervades several of the covered gigs throughout the weekend. In the woods, Brighton label Tru Thoughts host a great party and we relish the warm night air as we pile back into the field at 2am when the music ends, wishing it would last at least another couple of hours.
For us, it all leads up to Hiatus Kaiyote's hotly anticipated main stage set on Sunday afternoon. There's been a buzz about them all weekend, a crowd gathers far in advance of their show, and it really is the highlight of the weekend for us. Their razor-sharp, uncompromising set more than exceeds expectations as they flawlessly deliver tune after unpredictable tune, led magnificently by Nai Palm, their entrancing frontwoman. It's truly one of the most exciting gigs I've seen for a long time, and, dazed, we stumble away from the main stage towards the Arena for upcoming neo-soul producer Taylor McFerrin. We only see the second half of his stylish jazztronica set, and can't help but wonder why his set clashes with tour-mates Hiatus Kaiyote, who surely must have appealed to a similar audience at the festival, or why he's been programmed so early in the day, as he would definitely have suited a late night slot. Frustratingly, Ginger Baker coincides with this too, and we dash from McFerrin's set to catch the last tune by the legendary drummer. He sounded phenomenal, as did his quartet, and we lamented missing most of the set.
We catch the end of Hugh Masekela's set on our way to Van Morrison, and I leave kicking myself that I didn't watch the whole thing. It quickly passes as we immerse ourselves in the joyful Van crowd. He absolutely delivers: his voice is still powerful and he leads a particularly swinging, dynamic band in a surprisingly bluesy 90 minute set peppered with favourite anthems from his back catalogue. Ever the showman, he leaves the stage and returns three times as the set draws to a close. His unbelievably talented musicians savour an extended jam at the end of ‘Gloria', bringing the crowd back in at the chorus, and the atmosphere in the audience is among the best I've experienced in my life.
This festival has grown into something really special, and I hope it continues to develop over the next few years, sustaining the balance between popular, new and avant garde acts. If so, there is no question about it - I will be returning to this festival year after year, for many summers to come.
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