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Festival Review: We Out Here

Jazz, soul, hip hop, afro, electronica, and house - a look at the festival made for everyone

We woke on Saturday morning creaking and happy. It had rained biblically for most of the day before – mud-caking our wellies, plastering macs to aching legs, dampening the bread rolls – but somehow, between Yazmin Lacey’s early evening neo-soul and Auntie Flo’s arm-raising midnight set, the halfway point of We Out Here trembled through us. It was joyful.

The festival promised a lot. A product of Gilles Peterson’s own taste and his label Brownswood Recordings, the inaugural We Out Here pitched itself as “joining the musical dots” between jazz, soul, hip hop, afro, electronica, and house – everything that slots into Peterson’s Saturday afternoon radio show on 6 Music. An album of the same name was released last year featuring the musicians who were to form the basis ofthe summer line-up.

Keyboardist and composer Joe Armon-Jones is one of these artists, whose second album ‘Turn To Clear View’ is released this Friday, 20th September. He is known for his part in explosive London jazz group Ezra Collective, and the style carries over into his solo work. His music is galactic, and quivers with momentum; the set’s solos were fiery burst of notes sparking their way through the melody in precise hits, deliberate and individual compared to the psycho-smooth blissiness of the chords. This contrast is the point: his ghosty, warped organ at once set off the other band-members and bared his talent. As a performer, he was colourful andstreamlined; his notes bent round, bloated, and diffused as they filled in the gaps where dub, funk, and Herbie Hancock’s legacy meet.

Armon-Jones slinked in for an appearance in Nubya Garcia’s set. Tenor saxophonist and composer Garcia is of a spirited and spiritual mould, and her solos had catchy melodies with all the elasticity to showcase her improvisational skill. ‘Lost Kingdoms’ was a Coltrane-esque slow-build, and she bloomed in freer compositions like the ‘When We Are’. Cool and magnetic enthusiasm made for wide-eyed, glistening tracks, and she deserved longer than the half an hour she was given – perhaps true for a few artists, who could have been enjoyed for two or three times as long as their sets permitted.

Garcia’s versatility was characteristic of most of the jazz musicians, both in style and material, as they consistently cropped up in others’ sets. They are the product of the same scene. Like Armon-Jones, Theon Cross plays with Garcia, himself the tuba-player in Sons of Kemet (winners of a MOBO for Best Jazz Act in 2013). Cross was bone-shaking: the blistering Sunday afternoon heat dried the mud beneath our feet; his playing cracked the ground right open. Lips of raspberry steel made for near-beatboxing into his tuba, his encore feeding from the crowd’s astonishment at the sheer strength of it all.

In spite of – perhaps because thanks to – the threat of dampness on Friday night, the crowd at the Main Stage received Kojey Radical with feverish excitement. The weekend’s mode was one of vitality, and, simply, he bled life – a mercurial blend of rap, spoken word and occasionally raw-edge funk. His performance was a succession of lightning flashes, as he zig-zagged across the stage with sweating, sinewy virtuosity. Infectiously honest about both composing and battling depression, he streaked through the line-up as the most vibrant of highlights.

Elsewhere in the area surrounding ‘The Forest’ were DJs playing through the night; wandering between them was like the same approach you have between floors in a club – without the aimlessness, and with the confidence that there’d be something good. This ‘something for everyone’ refraction sometimes felt too decentred, but it did account for the inevitable proliferation of music taste, like one of the most inexplicable but gold-miney Discover Weeklys. I swerved the eye-popping DnB/jungle of DJ Randall, but sets as varied as Tenderlonius’ jazz-laced house to Malfada’s disco-y Brazil were scattered around the site and across the weekend. 

Abbots Rippon, old home to the Secret Garden Party, is in the heart of Cambridgeshire and had room for outdoor lake swimming, yoga (if so inclined), and films and talks. The Sunday headliner, Gary Bartz, gave an interview for Worldwide FM in an outdoor tent, during which he talked about the advice passed down from Miles Davis, and what it was like to play with Charlie Parker.

Like the name of his radio station, Peterson pushed for his festival to be a “worldwide family gathering”. Clearly, this meant drawing out the resemblances between different music genres, celebrating the closeness of the current scene, and bringing fans into the fold. Performers and campers alike simply roamed and savoured. It all seemed a bit more than “joining the dots”: this was musical pointillism; sharp, bright individuals creating patterned, vivid blur.

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