Burt Bacharach, GoGo Penguin and Esperanza Spalding are other highlights
GRACE JONES is sporting a gold skull-mask, feather headdress, twitching horsetail, zebra body-paint and precious little else. And she’s growling like a lioness in the dark. Starting with Iggy Pop’s ‘Nightclubbing’, her Saturday headline set brings haughty theatricality, camp menace and careless pop power to this South Downs jazz festival. Downing a whiskey to counter understandable chilliness, her disinclination to cow her special madness is summed up on ‘Private Life’: “I’m very superficial/I hate everything official.”‘
Her attitude couldn’t be more different to gentleman pro Burt Bacharach, who closes the East Sussex festival on Sunday. Aged 88 and never really a singer, he of course croaks his beautiful music’s lyrics of everyday poetry (mostly by the late, equally great Hal David), supported by female vocalists and a small orchestra. Wearing a puff jacket against the evening chill, he leads a closing singalong of ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ which is more moving than this seemingly featherweight song should be. It’s simply an honour to see him.
This is the starry icing, anyway, on a bill ranging right across the jazz spectrum (and in their case, past it). It’s been decades since jazz had so many diverse spearheads, connecting with open-minded fans no longer caring what good music’s called. If Gregory Porter is this generation’s Nat King Cole, LA saxophonist Kamasi Washington takes John Coltrane’s role of jazzman as spiritual shaman. His knowingly titled Next Step band is usefully connected to a wider commune including Kendrick Lamar, aiding the reach beyond jazz’s borders of his 100,000-selling, concept triple-album The Epic. Though their start in the packed Big Top is too indiscriminately full-on, the closing ‘The Rhythm Changes’ keeps building in power, achieving a sort of genial transcendence. When I try to raise my excited voice, I find I’ve already lost it.
Britain’s Blue Note-signed Mercury nominees GoGo Penguin also have a fervent fan-base. An acoustic piano trio as influenced by Aphex Twin as Thelonious Monk, they understand both improvisation and rave’s cresting dynamics, with the staccato brakes on the racing climax of ‘1 %’ a highlight.
Esperanza Spalding’s role-playing on her Bowiesque new concept album Emily’s D+Evolution, Moon Hooch’s Brooklyn rave-jazz and St. Germain’s sultry, late-night Afro-funk are other peaks. Love Supreme, anyway, is special. Now in its fourth year, it’s a Downland gathering of the jazz and soul tribes like no other festival. It’s breaking down barriers at a time when they’re being nailed up in Britain.
© Nick Hasted, The Independent, 7 July 2016