Never has a festival flown by so quickly as Love Supreme 2016. Now an annual pilgrimage for a few of us from Bristol, I've attended this festival with the same friends since its first edition in 2013 and it's been such an interesting experience to watch it grow and assume an identity. It feels like a properly established event now, each year boasting a line up as adventurous and varied as the last, and developing a dynamic that feels its own. We arrive to pitch up on Friday, halfway through a chilly and overcast afternoon, and assemble our camp, picking up little jokes and rituals that we were sad to leave here last year. Gradually the grey subsides and blossoms into a beautiful evening and we follow stretching shadows into the arena. It's one of my favourite festival sites, long and fairly compact, nestled into a green dreaming valley overlooked by Glynde House.
Only the Arena tent and the Bandstand host bands on the first night, as the vast majority of punters arrive on Saturday (many as day ticket holders) so the Friday is usually fairly laid back. This year, though, the Arena pulls out the stops. We join in time to catch excellent neo-soul Brighton groovers J-Felix who kick things up nicely. Sumo Chief are up next - and entirely blow me away with their genre-defying and curiously psychedelic-ish jazz sound, transient and moody and euphoric all at once, with spectacularly funky grooves that are constantly evolved and redefined. It sets the standard far higher than I've seen on many opening night early evening gigs in other years. Thankfully they’re followed by the equally talented Ezra Collective, whose colourful afro-jazz is punctuated with solos demonstrating distinction that belies their youth. Then it's off into the woods for a party led by regulars Mr Bongo Sound System, whose classic soul and cumbia selections are a welcome alternative from the cheesefest now pumping in the Arena courtesy of JazzFM's Funky Sensations. When this winds up at 2am we're promptly wafted back to the campsite by security as they close the main festival concourse for a few hours.
Saturday morning starts slowly, with a little pyjama-clad yoga in the campsite to ease our hangovers. Sound travels easily across the flat site and from our camp we can clearly hear the sousaphonic basslines of Riot Jazz Brass Band firing up on the Main Stage. We wander round the site collecting tea and food and exclaiming at how strong the wind is this year. It rains on and off but the mood is high. Making our way into the Big Top, at the far end of the site from the Main Stage, a large crowd gathers for highly acclaimed vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant, who demonstrates why she seems to be winning every singing award available at the moment. A stunningly talented young singer with a breathtaking range, her playful manner of delivery is underpinned by a rigorous and seemingly intuitive understanding of the poetry running through her eclectic setlist. Familiar lyrics that could sound trite and twee in the hands of others become supple and sensitively wise, as though we hear them for the first time again.
A little later on that stage, I catch the first bit of Esperanza Spalding’s nutty new project Emily's D+Evolution. In as fine form as ever, she leaps around the stage with a Britney mic and the energy of a Duracell bunny, often putting her electric bass down to launch into exuberant dance moves, playing a cool keyboard bass contraption with her feet. I drag myself away halfway through to check out Feelgood Experiment, an incredibly talented young band from my hometown of Bristol that I've been following for a while. The winners of this year's discovery competition, they pull a big crowd to the bandstand and deliver a sparkling set of hard-to-categorise original tunes that are irresistibly danceable. Their watertight musicianship and innovative songwriting definitely make them a band to watch for big things.
I try to watch the second half of Scofield Mehldau Guiliana but can't quite lock into their astral vibes and find myself wishing I'd been there from the start. At 7:30pm we’re at the main stage for the first time this weekend for the gloriously genre-hopping Lianne La Havas who never fails to impress. Then it's back to the Big Top stage (who almost always have the best line up, in my opinion) for the totally outrageous and entirely wonderful St Germain, comprising ten musicians from all over the world. Each song lasts about twenty minutes and shimmers with unpredictable intercontinental majesty. Following a lengthy, raucous and much-demanded encore, we return to the camp to gather beer supplies and muster energy before Gilles Peterson and Patrick Forge’s mighty 4-hour marathon takeover, featuring a live set from the glorious Daymé Arocena and her ferocious band. It’s a perfect end to the night and probably my favourite set of the weekend.
Sunday morning is naturally a more chilled affair, sticking our heads into a few different stages and soaking up the pleasant morning. Someone recommends that we check out Binker & Moses, and we are immediately entranced by the sheer musicianship of this duo, who create the most incredible phrases and patterns with just tenor sax and drums. Even in the world of jazz, which relies upon onstage non-verbal conversations, their near-telepathic communication is thrilling to watch. To move straight from that onto the ever-wonderful Gogo Penguin on another stage hammered home the quality of the programming; there are few festivals where you could see back to back acts of unapologetic innovation such as this. Kelis plays a short but dynamic set on the main stage, and then I find myself unexpectedly sucked into the Melody Gardot set. Despite being occasionally cynical over the years of her approach, I’m genuinely bowled over by her set. Sunglasses-clad, she sits at the piano, a slight figure among her band, and decisively leads a darkly joyful and highly skilled romp through a tight set of predominately blues tunes. There are no gaps for sitting down or taking stock this afternoon - partly due to the original programming and partly because a few stages are now running late - so it’s straight off to wunderkind Jacob Collier who dazzles with his reimagining of the one-man-band concept. Dashing around the stage alone in a cockpit-like setup of keyboards, drums, vocoders, bass guitars and more, he commands attention with his multi-instrumental talent and sheer expression of delight.
We opt for Kamasi Washington over Burt Bacharach and are rewarded with a longish set of outrageous funk-fuelled energy and heady wit - such as he is fast becoming renowned for. He and his band (complete with two drummers) play with such flair and imagination that it is impossible to linger on the fringes of the gig and so we and the rest of the audience launch ourselves in to dance and stomp along with the band. We wind down the night with a boogie in the woods where an excellent DJ gleefully plays a solid hour of Prince tunes - and then it’s all over.
I’m aware that we, as a group of young twenty-somethings fresh from university, are perhaps not the intended demographic of this festival (which has a tendency to focus resources on glamping and champagne bars - not our usual scene) but it’s nonetheless still a really wonderful event, and the only British camping festival really to champion jazz in all its multi-faceted glory. We’ll be back next year, and the years after, and I hope to see it continue growing into a festival that remembers its roots in jazz and builds its audience into a space that is increasingly diverse and imaginative as it matures.
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