Introduced by Scottish DJ Edith Bowman who later anchors a Q&A session, the Kyla Simone Bruce directed ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ is an aptly titled film.
It represents the triumph of the collective spirit over potential adversity, as the musicians pay homage to the late great Jack Bruce, albeit the irascible Ginger Baker seemed to be on a different trajectory on the night.
It’s a good snap shot of Bruce’s musical career, even if his son Malcolm, and Jack’s co-writer Pete Brown decided they wanted to be part of their own tribute to Bruce, while John McLaughlin, Charlie Watts, Ringo Starr and Robin Trower offer filmed apologies for their absence.
Tonight’s big screen premiere in the heart of Mayfair is in the presence of Bruce’s daughter’s Natascha (aka Aruba Red), film director Kyla, and several core band members.
The main body of the film is topped and tailed by two archive video clips. There’s Jack in solo mode with some raw harp playing and circular breathing on the self penned ‘Train Time’, while the second clip finds him at the piano with exemplary vocals on ‘Theme For An Imaginary Western’.
Those two clips alone show a glimpse of the versatility of a classically trained musician with a calling for jazz, a love of the blues and who never wavered in his aim of finding new ways of musical expression.
‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ records 35 musicians under the guidance of MD Nitin Sawhney at the Roundhouse, trying to make a coherent tribute concert to an artist whose varied back catalogue reflects his broad musical outlook and versatility.
Indeed a line-up including Phil Manzanera, Ian Anderson, Mark King, Vernon Reid, Joss Stone, Hugh Cornwell, Uli Jon Roth, Bernie Marsden, Clem Clempson, Ginger Baker and members of Jack Bruce’s Big Band – including Paddy Milner, Frank Tontoh and Tony Remy – is in itself diverse enough.
The film charts how the band and the music grew organically on the night from a circumspect beginning to a ragged, but celebratory finish on the title track of the film. As a result there are just enough inspired moments to draw applause from an enthusiastic crowd at tonight’s big screen premier.
Aruba Red fronts one of the emotional highlights with ‘Folk Song’ and makes the kind of essential connection with the crowd that is missing in too much of a well meaning tribute. There’s certainly enough musical passion on show, but everyone is boxed in by the sheer weight of the project and countless changes on a stage resembling a building site.
The crowd too is initially strangely muted, and it takes an encouraging hand signal from Mark King after his brief homage to Jack’s lineage on ‘Keep It Down’, to generate polite applause.
No matter, the film quietly sets about capturing the salient moments, the musical dynamics and the intensity of the solos while framing the respective soloist within the big band setting.
There are plenty of close-ups, overhead zooms and left-to-right panning to draw us into the contrasting moods of a set that thrives on diversity and musical contrast.
The movie probably could have done with some subtitles to highlight the main performers and a chronological context beyond the opening intro from Jack’s widow Margrit and Aruba Red’s moving eulogy to her dad, but in an age where talking heads too often drown the musical message, less is probably more.
Mark King seamless bass playing and excellent vocals provide the closest approximate to Bruce himself and he’s particularly strong on the early ‘Hit & Run’. He also brings real intensity to ‘Keep It Down’, which is matched by Clem Clempson on guitar.
Uli Jon Roth is filmed up close adding a free flowing solo’s on ‘I Feel Free’ and ‘Badge’, while Clempson – surely one of the understated heroes of the night – is majestic on the wah-wah part of ‘White Room’, as he’s joined by Bernie Marsden who contributes tasty vibrato and a growling tone.
Some of the best moments come early on when flautist, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, teams up with violinist Miles Brett on the tango inflected ‘Milonga’, and Anderson also stamps his unique phrasing all over the intricate ‘Ticket To Waterfalls’, one of five songs tonight from ‘Songs For A Tailor.’
There are a handful of outsanding moments in the film, including the sheer emotional presence and haunting voice of Aruba Red on ‘Folk Song’. She later returns on ‘We’re Going Wrong’, a song built on Baker’s tom-tom intro, Anderson’s beautifully nuanced flute and Manzanera’s ethereal guitar tone.
Then there’s the vocalist Chantelle Nandi who impresses when she takes the spotlight on ‘Don’t Look Now’ to effortlessly soar over Paddy Milner’s Hammond.
Film director Kyla Bruce is also a beguiling presence on ‘Weird of Hermiston’, which she delivers in a huge coat that suggests she was on en-route to somewhere else.
The heavy blunderbuss of ‘Politician’ receives the biggest reaction in the cinema tonight. The heavy arrangement would surely have made Bruce smile. Vocalist Liam Bailey dominates the song as the explosive muscularity of Vernon Reid’s guitar solo racks up an intensity matched by the peerless rhythm section of Neil Murray and Frank Tontoh.
Vocalist Bailey is a growing presence throughout the night, attacking the celebratory ‘I’m So Glad’ with gusto over Phil Manzanera’s spacey tone and Bernie Marsden’s bluesy grit.
In between the big hitters there are some unexpected highlights, most notably the spellbinding Ayanna Witter-Johnson on her adventurous cello interpretation of ‘Rope Ladder To The Moon’. When committed to film, moments such as this tend to make a reputation, and you could almost feel the presence of Jack’s uninhibited musical vision in the room.
There’s still time for Joss Stone’s bubbly presence on the horn-led ‘Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out of Tune’
The subsequent Q&A session features Bruce’s daughter’s along with band members Sawhney, Anderson, Bailey, Manzanera and King.
The assembled recall an air of camaraderie, as a few of the guests wryly smile at the mention of hiccups on the night. Ginger Baker apart, it suggests a kind of edge that Jack Bruce himself would surely have demanded!
Review & photos by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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