Review: Roy Ayers At The Jazz Cafe

Art & Culture

What's with musicians taking on brand endorsements these days? Lydon’s done Country Life and Iggy Pop's done those insurance spots, so after this show I surmised the 76 year old ought to be the face of Wellman. Roy Ayers has missed a trick by not starring in a vitamin advert. 

I turned up to the Jazz Café on Tuesday evening for the second of three shows at the Camden venue, the centrepiece of his UK tour this December. In the prime of my youth, I was still nursing my wounds after a Saturday night out and felt immediately unjustified in doing so witnessing a group of men around thrice my age cavorting around.

The ‘godfather of neo-soul’ swaggered onstage sporting a blue velvet cap and matching mallets taking his place behind his electric vibraphone. He and his sartorially-gifted band leapt into his classic, "Searchin" , which provoked joy across the room. Admittedly his voice showed his age a little but somehow he managed to steer through with barely a croak. At only one point during "Red, Black and Green" did his voice give way with a cough, he sipped some water and styled it out with a grin. It’s a great facet of jazz musicians of such calibre that allowed the band to play in controlled chaos, and making it all look so very fun. He’s got the perfect attitude to musical performance, marrying a lifelong devotion of musical craft with an unpretentious ability to simply entertain onstage. I defy anyone to make a keytar solo seem un-gimmicky, yet his keyboardist Mark Adams did exactly this – loaded up with doo-wop vocal samples, no less.

“In the what?” Roy asks with a coy look about him – “in the sunshine,” he’s duly answered.

The hot rendition does not disappoint and has the room exultant on a miserable November evening. I can’t remember the last time I got more than a fleeting glimpse of our solar body but I reckon "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" has a similar physiological effect. Seasonal Affective Disorder is probably only prevalent in towns missed on the tour.

The Jazz Café is a perfect venue for this sort of show, with dancing downstairs and a more civilised jazz-bar above, the two tiers offer the band members twice the chance to catch someone’s eye. Almost as if he were playing peekaboo, Roy makes contact with a bald man in the audience and whips off his hat to reveal his own hairless scalp.

A boogie-inducing "Runnin’ Away" is followed by "Don’t Stop the Feeling", in which the drummer really shines – taking the opportunity for a short, tasteful solo in the midst of the jam. My only major criticism of the night was during "We Live in Brooklyn Baby": when a Brixton-based rapper stole the show with some bars that fell quite flat. I appreciate the attempt to involve 'local' artists, but the ‘we live in Brixton’ felt somewhat shoehorned in.

In the next few songs, we really get a sense of Roy’s proficiency for his instrument. Racing up and down scales with gusto, he’s a master at the vibraphone and it’s sometimes easy to forget this in respect to his pop success. "Mystic Voyage" is the cosmic apex of the night’s journey, the four band members weaving a constellation of dulcet tones in an extended session. Reminding us we’re on terra firma, they end with "Love Will Bring us Back Together", which mandates some interaction between feet and floor. We think we’re in for an encore but the appearance of the merchandise means Roy’s about to plough ahead with signing. I think the queue’s going to be awfully lengthy. 

Photography courtesy of Nicola Antonazzo on Tuesday 6th December, 2016.

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