Kokoroko on the stage
There was a lot to celebrate as this year’s festival approached its last show weekend like no other, not least the commitment to presenting young bands who enjoy blurring genre boundaries.
The comet is coming (****) have been in this form for several years and their saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings has several other groups in which they cross the borders.
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As their cosmic name suggests, this trio from London targets the stratosphere and offers “Sonic DNA Massage Therapy” according to their synthesizer maestro and MC Danalogue. Athletic drummer Betamax completes this alternate power trio, adding a headbanging beat to Hutchings’ trademark fast, furious, fidgety and funky Afro-jazz-influenced calls.
Their potent, playful set steered a free-running course between Afrobeat Warcry, Electro Jazz Fusion, Acid Electronica, Heavy Sludge Rock Riffola and brazen, prog-rocky synth licks, with dry ice oozing from the stage. Then it went on to the next track.
They took their excellent musicality lightly – these guys are the party band at the end of the universe where seat wobble is a minimum. A blissful, soulful saxophone rave was followed by a loud free jam. Asteroid visuals accompanied a nervous space jazz wobble. A tribal drum solo for heavy dub basslines and soaring, scorching saxophone. Resistance was futile. Since the beginning of the grassroots clubs, The Comet Is Coming has secured its place in the festival firmament.
If The Comet Is Coming were a lesson on how to make an exciting riot with just three musicians, their London compatriots Kokoroko (****) showed the joys of the larger ensemble, not least the fair presence of an all-female horn front with band leader Sheila Maurice-Gray on trumpet, flanked by saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi and trombonist Richie Sievwright.
To their mellow solos, breezy unison vocals and gliding movements, these new old-school Afro-jazz fusioners added shimmering percussion from Onome Edgeworth, silky jazz-funk sounds and clear, spacey chords from keyboardist Yohan Kebede and an Afro-futuristic sensibility which is now back in style, thanks largely to the crossover appeal of Kamasi Washington.
Kokoroko give their set a little more funk-soul flair thanks to their rhythm backline of guitarist Oscar Jerome, bassist Mutale Chashi and drummer Ayo Salawu, who effortlessly walk a course from the carefree jazz-funk soundtrack to astral jazz territory via their flowing set steered. But it was the injection of afrobeat rhythms that got the audience to get on their feet, to join the call and response of the new song Something’s Going On and the liberating joy in the sounding Nigerian highlife groove of their party encore to feel.
Black land, new road (***) aim for similar fleet flexibility when it comes to compliance with genre conventions, but the live results were far less certain. With an album in their name, these Londoners of seven are still learning to crawl and the direction of travel is not yet clear.
They have guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, violin and saxophone to play, but have never been as dynamic as this mixed line-up suggests. By default, vocalist / guitarist Isaac Woods took over the reins, while his bandmates sometimes fumbled to find their place in the ensemble. His soft but reserved singing occasionally rose to a more passionate performance that was mirrored by the rest of the group, but there wasn’t much drive, charisma, or connective tissue to see them through the more confident, sensitive indie folk passages.
The lack of engagement with the audience played less of a role than they fired up with the driving rhythms, klezmer saxophone, and epic buildup of the aptly titled opus, and the group eventually looked like they were having as much fun as their fans.