After last year’s debut was considered a resounding success by performers and attendees alike, would this year’s return be able to match up and fully establish Britain’s only greenfield jazz festival?
Arriving on the slightly damp site, we were greeted by Brighton’s Neon Saints Brass Band, who marched around the site to kick off the day. It was straight down to business with a midday set from trumpeter Matthew Halsall in the Ronnie Scott’s Big Top that featured pieces from his Eastern flavoured new album ‘When The World Was One’; the combination of harp, piano and soprano sax giving it an early 70s Alice Coltrane feel. 20 year old Nikki Janofsky may have been taken under Quincy Jones’s wing but her perky jazz pop was a little too Matt Bianco for many.
Things livened up with Devon’s ex-punks The Computers, who now favour an indie soul sound. Front man and mischief maker Alex Kershaw somehow pulled off a crowd parting Battle Royale dance off that worked spectacularly well. Over on the main stage Incognito celebrated their 35th anniversary with hits from their Talkin Loud heyday, while tucked away in the leafy tranquility of the bandstand, Normanton Street and The EME both pulled a large crowd preferring Brighton-based talent over Laura Mvula. 90s nu soul star Lalah Hathaway showed her jazz chops on a scatty ‘Summertime’ and gave a very classy rendition of her Grammy winning collaboration with Snarky Puppy.
Al McKay’s Earth Wind & Fire Experience managed a slick set, despite the slight lack of authenticity. ‘Getaway’ was tight and punchy but the male vocals fell a little short on ‘Boogie Wonderland’. The soggy, boozed-up crowd didn’t seem to mind though. With Omar’s set totally roadblocked, there was ample room for the more serious jazzers to check out bass legend Dave Holland’s latest fusion project Prism. The party continued in the Tru Thoughts tent with a lively dancehall set from Wrongtom and a late show from Harleighblu.
Sunday’s opener Jose James was the perfect hangover cure with his rich voice falling somewhere between Bill Withers and Gil Scott-Heron, while the electric piano gave the set a mellow 1970s soul sound which climaxed with ‘Park Bench People’ that uses Freddie Hubbard’s funky ‘Red Clay’ as its template. As soon as Alice Russell walked onstage the sun finally came out for a blissful set that covered her last album right back to 2004’s ‘Hurry Up Now’. Courtney Pine continued his exploration of Caribbean music with a steel drummer and a guest appearance by Omar but his technical brilliance did feel a little self-indulgent at times.
Back on the bandstand the far less grandstanding Ornate Quartet played a mix of 1950s West Coast cool school and a funky take on Charles Mingus. A dash to the Arena tent was rewarded by a very dancey set from Mama’s Gun before hitting the main stage just in time to hear Caron Wheeler sing the opening “Steady, are you ready?” of ‘Keep On Moving’ for Soul II Soul’s crowd pleasing set that ended on a high with a gorgeous ‘Back To Life’.
The best dressed award went to the Christian McBride Trio whose playing was as sharp as their suits in an hour of classy standards that went off the scale with a dazzling Jackson 5 medley. Man-of-the-moment Gregory Porter can’t put a foot wrong as his fame and reputation reach global proportions. For those who managed to squeeze themselves into the Big Top, the rewards were truly great, lapping up every second of the soul jazz star and his excellent New York quartet.
The live music ended on a high with a very playful De La Soul and their tight live band reeling out hit after hit that concluded with the killer ‘3 Is The Magic Number’. The die-hards headed to Russ Dewbury’s Jazz Rooms soundsystem while the rest of us made our way home. Let’s hope the organisers made their money and bring this friendliest of festivals back for a third year in 2015.
Glynde Place, Fri 4th – Sun 6th July 2014
Words and photos by Steve Clements