Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul Festival review, July 10th – 12th

Want to know how great this year’s Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul Festival was? Try this for size...Public Enemy rolled up on Friday to headline that night and loved it so much they came back on Saturday to watch Roy Ayers before heading over to the Moseley Dance Centre for the after show. Rumours that they’re recording DO Believe The Hype as the festival’s new official anthem are still unconfirmed but if you see Flavour Flav queuing up in the Kingfisher Fish and Chip Bar anytime soon don’t be surprised.

Day One

Friday afternoon always serves up some treats. This year Namiwa Jazz and Lumi HD kicked things off, highlighting (as if there were any doubt) that Brum’s home to some of the UK’s finest young soul talent. Check out Namiwa Jazz’s Jungle and Lumi HD’s All Mine for a double dose of deliciousness.
Mouse Outfit were one of the revelations of 2011’s Mo Jazz and four years on their mix of hip hop, reggae, soul, jazz and funk was every bit as booty shaking with shades of J5’s old skool feel good raps dished up by Dr Syntax (possibly the best spoken rapper since Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer), Sparkz and Truthos Mufasa.

Blessed with the weather again (are Mostly Jazz and its big brother Moseley Folk the luckiest festivals around?) Amy Fitz Doyley provided the perfect chilled out soundtrack for a sunny afternoon before The Milk added a little Stone Roses swagger to their classic soul sound especially on their newer material including cream of the crop No Interruptions (out now on vinyl, naturally...it’s the future). 

If this is an indication of the new album (due out in the Autumn) it’ll be udderly brilliant.
Speaking of brilliance how good were Brum’s very own KIOKO? With an irresistible blend of reggae, ska and pop they’re the spiritual grandkids of early UB40 (before they all fell out with each other) coupled with Steel Pulse and, as with both those groups, it’s great to see/hear a younger band addressing social issues on tracks like Deadly Roots, a plea for tolerance with a message that’s as great as its tune. Extra marks for their wonderful reggae-fied version of What’s Going On too. Marvin-lous.  

If the post work crowd were looking for a little gentle introduction to the weekend then they were in for a shock. 

Japan’s Soil and Pimp Sessions are anything but gentle. Fronted by Shacho, a megaphone toting dude who looks like the Japanese lovechild of Sly Stone and Elvis Presley they play a dizzying stir fry of jazz, bebop and Latin rhythms with such energy and joy that it’s practically impossible to stop your limbs from doing their own thing. At one point the drummer’s sticks literally splintered into pieces and scattered across the stage giving you some idea of the power of the band in full flow. If someone you know says they don’t like jazz take them to see this lot and watch ‘em soil (and pimp) themselves.

In need of some chillin’ out The Pharcyde did the job better than a 9inch blunt. Passin’ Me By and Runnin’ still sounded class tonight, a full twenty odd years since their release, and remarkably the two remainin’ original members of the band seem to be in equally good shape.

There’s a bit of a 90s feel to Free School where lush Balearic beats blend with more of an austere electro sound. Vocalist Greg Bird’s rather fabulous falsetto helped create tunes that made you want to dance and make lurve...both at the same time...which isn’t easy...or strictly legal in full public view. A blessed out treat of a set.

That just left time for Public Enemy and if anyone knows the time it’s Flavour Flav, arguably the only man in history to make wearing a giant clock (quite possibly nicked from his mum’s kitchen wall) round his neck look cool. A quarter of a century on it’s perhaps difficult to fully appreciate the impact that Public Enemy had on music and culture back in the day. Political, socially conscious and not afraid to drop the ‘n’ word they led a second charge for civil rights in the late 80s and early 90s whilst making the odd (very odd in some cases) slip ups regarding sexuality and religion. Tonight was the definition of a crowd pleasing headline show though, all the hits, enough bouncing around from the band and crowd to get local seismologists checking their instruments, Flav pressing the flesh and even some new stuff, Man Plans, God Laughs (a quiet/ loud/quiet big beat banger replete with self referencing lyrics) to show that they’re still fighting the power. 

In fact from the moment that the military wing of the band arrived on stage with one of their ever so slightly camp dance routines right up to when Flavor Flav delivered his loved up “We’re all God’s children” speech near the end of the show it was probably the loudest and liveliest that Moseley Park’s ever been rocked. Happily all the hype surrounding their appearance this weekend was more than justified.

Day Two

It’s always a bit of a struggle the morning after the night before and whilst 11.25AM may seem like an absurd time to play a blues set Steve Ajao and his Blues Giants made the effort of getting there really worthwhile. 

“We’re going to play some songs of misery and despair” he explained cheerfully. As introductions to sets go this was pretty low key but Ajao’s playing and singing was anything but. Old age has robbed us of most of the legendary blues originals but Ajao clearly shares some of their DNA and you’d probably have to go all the way to Memphis to have any chance of topping a Blues Giants show. If there’s any justice in this world Ajao should be headlining festivals like this, not opening them.

Tiro Lark is an odd name for a band but get used to it. These four teens from Liverpool will be HUGE one day. Covering songs can be a bit of minefield but this lot tackled everything from Wonder’s Superstitious to Bowie’s Fame adding a bluesy twist coupled with that rawer early era Beatles sound and a bit of a Free vibe. Their own stuff sounded pretty great too, even ‘early track’ (presumably penned whilst they were still in the womb), Beach Bomb. Ones to watch.

The Gene Dudley Group got the funk going with a couple of great guest appearances from the delightfully named Anne Frankenstein (surely Funkenstein might be more appropriate?). Pick of the set was a track called Dynamite, a glorious slab of falsetto disco funk that wouldn’t have left the turntables of Studio 54 back in the day.

Squeezed onto the stage Moseley’s own Atlantic Players (all ten or so of ‘em) did a fine job of whipping up the crowd, always a bit of a challenge in the post lunchtime slot. They’ve shaped up to become a really great soul band over the past few years and this afternoon’s set was a party from start to finish.

The Ephemerals’ heart shredding soul (the lead singer was a bit of a mover too...see piccie above) and New Street Adventures indie Style Council vibe paved the way for the Hackney Colliery Band to both blow and suck...in the best possible way of course. One of a number of groups who’ve taken brass to places the good folk of Grimethorpe never imagined in their wildest dreams they’re also one of the very best, with some particular effective reworkings stuffed up their sousaphone. Pick of the covers included a juicily jazzed up Inner City Life and show climax Toto’s Africa which saw the whole band clamber down from the stage and play in the crowd creating one of those instant moments that make great festivals. Free your (br)ass and your mind will follow people.     

The Filthy Six broke out the Hammond taking us back to the 60s with some Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames-ish instrumentals and some tight as bondage pants jazz funk grooves. Pick of the set and the band’s first single, Get Carter, picks up the pace of the original and tips a bucket full of funk all over it. Six-y boys.  

Craig Charles (curator of the day and all round funkmaster) popped up to introduce Cymande commenting on the fact that when he first heard them back in the day he was convinced they were an American band. He’s not the only one, which might explain why they had most of their success stateside too. They split in ‘75 seemingly due (in part at least) to the lack of success here in the UK but over the following 20 years or they started getting sampled by bands like De La Soul and The Fugees and now, a mere four decades later, they’ve reformed. 

Opening track Brothers On The Slide is one of the great rare groove classics, a funking masterpiece that’s right up there with anything Curtis Mayfield did in his 70s prime, and that’s some praise. The band sounds amazing and it’s ridiculously great to finally hear Bra and The Message live but it’s a new song, No Weeping, that possibly touched the heart and soul more than anything else. Sung by congo player Pablo it’s a stripped back tribute to departed bandmates and, if Bob Marley had made it this far in time, there’s a chance this is how he’d sound. Beautiful stuff.

Craig Charles popped up again for his traditional DJ set and it never fails to get people shaking their moneymakers. Mixing old and new favourites with funky covers he himself was soon up and dancing, perilously close to his turntables too (digital thankfully...no vinyl was harmed) after being joined by a surprisingly funky kid from the audience.

Finally for Day Two genuine living legend time (Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul never disappoints on this score) and this year it was jazz-funk pioneer Roy Ayers, “the man that’s always sampled but never duplicated”. If you wanted to know how influential this dude is you only had to look into the photo pit to see Public Enemy sitting down there taking in the show, a full 24 hours after their headlining slot. Love Will Bring Us Back Together was vibraphone-tastic, only bettered by Ayers’ sublime classic Everybody Loves The Sunshine (even if Ayers seemingly started speaking in tongues halfway through...maybe it was sunstroke?). This being a jazz funk show of course there were plenty of solos and extended workouts to keep the groove going culminating in the Duracell bunny of hip hop himself Mr Flavour Flav hopping up onstage for encore Don’t Stop The Feeling. 

Now that’s a double act you’re not going to see every day...

Day Three

Arrived too late to catch Jonny Hoo’s set (the curse of National Express West Midlands 'Travel' strikes again) but he no doubt played a suitable tribute to friend and band leader the late, great Andy Hamilton who often opened Day Three. Andy would surely have approved of the next band though, Jazzlines Ensemble, a collective of talented young musicians offering proof that jazz is alive and well here in his adopted home town. Speaking of talented Mahalia is another festival pick surely destined for big things. Effortlessly soulful (and that’s a rarity) she’s been writing songs for 5 years now. No biggie until you discover that she’s still only 17. 

With echoes of a younger Randy Crawford on some tracks and Amy Winehouse on others, but with her own unique Millennials street smart style, she’s utterly captivating to watch and listen to and if this is what she sounds like at 17 then the future’s hers for the taking. This being a festival there’s always a background chatter but her spoken word piece genuinely seemed to get everyone listening. Even the birds. Wow.   

Steve Troman’s Axis Point ranged from a kind of free jazz experimentalism through to Eno-esque chillage before 10 piece Baila La Cumbia, all the way from tropical Bristol, sent hips swivelling all over the place with their mix of Cuban/Columbian/Nu Yorican tunes. Arriba!

Crossing the soul funk divide Urban Soul Family were the only band of the weekend to feature some nice slap bass and flute solos. The instrumentals were good but the vocal numbers, including a particularly uplifting cover of Ain’t Nobody, even better.

Latin meets big band meets Sun Ra, that goes some way to describing Sid Peacock and Surge Orchestra but words seem somewhat inadequate in this case. Yes it’s a bit left field and experimental in places but Mr P’s such an enthusiastic bandleader with an neat line in between tune banter (that’s the gift of the Irish gab for you) that you’re irresistibly sucked in to it all. Sid Peacock...Bangor’s (and now Brum’s) answer to Frank Zappa. Make a jazz noise here!

Rachel Cohen’s mercury smooth sax playing as part of her quartet provided the perfect Sunday afternoon jazz musings before Jimi Tenor’s typically eclectic mix of genres in his new band Tenors of Kalma. Leaving few cultures untouched the set travelled to Africa, Asia and America taking in prog, jazz and electronica. As with Sid Peacock and Surge Orchestra some of it flirts with the experimental...or just plain mental in some cases...but it’s all hugely enjoyable especially the freaked out 70s porno movie soundtrack stylings of Go-Go-Go. Jimi also wins the Jazziest Suit of the Weekend Award for this awesome effort...

Hansu Tori’s double sax and easy Latin rhythms chilled things out a little again before some fine Daptone approved vintage rock ‘n’ soul from The James Hunter Six. Classic sounding but original soul numbers delivered with some truly testifying throat shredding screams it’s no surprise to learn that Van Morrison’s a fan or that Hunter goes down well in the US (he was actually nominated for a Grammy for his bluesier stuff back in 2006). There’s a touch of Morrison in his vocal delivery, together with a little Sam Cooke and a dash of Jackie Wilson too. Some self deprecating between song banter kept the mood light but Hunter’s a serious talent.

After catching a brief snatch of Delta Autumn’s shimmery electro jazz it was left up to Gregory Porter to end this year’s Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul all too soon. Porter’s been blessed with one of those beautiful baritone voices that could make the winter weather forecast sound appealing. It’s gospel, it’s soul, it’s love and heartbreak, it’s several litres of melted caramel with a smoky dash of bourbon mixed in. 

Incredibly, as if the good Lord hadn’t been generous enough, he gave Porter a gift for songwriting too and tonight’s set showcased the best of them, from the upbeat jazzy name checking of On The Way To Harlem through to the poignantly reflective Water Under Bridges and Hey Laura. Appropriately enough the set closed with encore Real Good Hands and, for a sublime hour and a half, that’s exactly what Porter had held us in. A truly special end to yet another wonderful Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul.

Suggestions for next year? How about De La Soul, Paul Weller, Laura Mvula, Level 42, Brand New Heavies, Arrested Development, Sharon Jones, The Budos Band, Shamir, Eska and Black Voices? You’re welcome.      


Anonymous said...

Well if we can't have Gregory back Sharon Jones is an amazing talent.

Niall Keohane said...

Sharon Jones would be absolutely perfect, as would anybody from The Daptone label - Naomi Shelton, Charles Bradley, Budos Band, Saun and Starr...
Nick Waterhouse would be great and so would Eli Paperboy Reed.

The Baron said...

Hi both,

Agreed! Maybe some kind of Daptone Review Show? How great would that be?! Eli Paperboy Reed's a top notch call too.