There was much to celebrate as this year’s Festival-like-no-other approached its final weekend of shows, not least the commitment to showcasing young bands gleefully blurring genre boundaries.
The Comet Is Coming (****) have several years of form in that regard, and their saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings several more groups in which to push the limits.
As their cosmic name suggests, this London-based trio aim for the stratosphere, offering "sonic DNA massage therapy" according to their synth maestro and MC Danalogue. Athletic drummer Betamax completes this alternative power trio, adding a headbanging beat to Hutchings’ trademark fast, furious, fidgety and funky Afrojazz-influenced invocations.
Their potent, playful set steered a freewheeling course between Afrobeat warcry, electro jazz fusion, acid electronica, heavy sludge rock riffola and brazenly prog rocking synth licks, with dry ice billowing off the stage. Then they moved on to the next track.
They wore their superb musicianship lightly – these guys are the party band at the end of the universe, with seat shimmying a minimum requirement. A blissful soulful sax rave was followed by a loud free jam. Asteroid visuals accompanied a jittery space jazz wiggle. A tribal drum sologave way to heavy dub basslines and soaring, searing saxophone. Resistance was futile. From grassroots club beginnings, The Comet Is Coming have secured their place in the festival firmament.
If The Comet Is Coming were a lesson in how to create a thrilling ruckus with only three musicians, their fellow Londoners Kokoroko (****) exhibited the joys of the larger ensemble, not least the righteous presence of an all-female brass frontline with band leader Sheila Maurice-Grey on trumpet, flanked by saxophonist Cassie Kinoshi and trombonist Richie Sievwright.
To their mellow solos, airy unison vocals and gliding movement, these new old school Afro jazz fusioneersadded shimmering percussion from Onome Edgeworth, silky jazz funk sounds and limpid, spacey chords from keyboard player Yohan Kebede and an Afrofuturist sensibility, nowback in vogue largely thanks to the crossover appeal of Kamasi Washington.
Kokoroko infuse a little more funk-soul flavour to their set, courtesy of their rhythm backline of guitarist Oscar Jerome, bassist Mutale Chashi and drummer Ayo Salawu, who effortlessly steered a course from carefree jazz-funk soundtrack to astral jazz territory across their flowing set. But it was the injection of Afrobeat rhythms which persuaded the audience to their feet, to join in the call-and-response of new tune Something's Going On and feel the liberating joy in the ringing Nigerian highlife groove of their party encore.
Black Country, New Road (***) aspire to a similar fleet flexibility when it comes to observing genre conventions but the live results were far less assured. With one album to their name, this London seven-piece 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 with but were never as dynamic as that mixed line-up might suggest. By default, singer/guitar Isaac Woods took the reins while his bandmates sometimes fumbled to find their place in the ensemble. His smooth but diffident vocals occasionally worked up to a more passionate delivery mirrored by the rest of the group, but there was no great drive, charisma, nor connective tissue to see them through the more self-regarding sensitive indie folk passages.
The lack of engagement with the audience mattered less when they powered up via the driving rhythms, klezmer saxophone and epic build of the suitably titled Opus and the group finally looked like they were having as much fun as their fans.