Jerry Dammers' Spatial A.K.A. Orchestra - West Holts Stage, Glastonbury Festival 2010 - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Jerry Dammers' Spatial A.K.A. Orchestra - West Holts Stage, Glastonbury Festival 2010

by Charly Richardson Rating: Release Date:

The name of ex-The Specials keyboardist Jerry Dammers' Spatial A.K.A. Orchestra is a deliberate play on words; a reference to his old band (who were also known as The Special A.K.A.), and to the eccentric, other-worldly free-jazz of the legendary Sun Ra Arkestra. As the band take the West Holts Stage (previously Jazz World) on the still baking-hot Saturday evening of Glastonbury 2010, I could count 19 musicians, playing everything from double bass to vibraphone and timpani. And that didn't include the guests. In fact, the band is so large that at the end of the show, Dammers has to read their names off a clipboard. The entire ensemble are sporting quirky Sun Ra-influenced Egyptian and outer-space themed costumes alongside onstage props that include aliens and a sarcophagus.

Luckily, their sound is just as impressive their appearance, and they start with a rousing reggae rendition of French Impressionist Erik Satie's 'Gnossiene No.1'. It shouldn't work, but it really does. Next, Jamaican roots-reggae legend Johnny Clarke is invited on for a hard-grooving version of his hit 'All Over the World'. Clarke bounds around the stage, giving an engaging performance with a powerful voice that has survived the years much better than many of his contemporaries. Afterwards, Dammers greets the crowd, saying that a few numbers will have to be cut due to the late start. It's a shame, but it's not going to bother the Spatial A.K.A. Orchestra; they're having too much damn fun.

Next is 'Egypt Song', the first of a number of Sun Ra tunes. The rock-steady rhythm section provide a massive groove which the huge horn section neatly sit on top of. Led by Robin Hopcraft on trumpet, the horn section consists of a draw-dropping array of British jazz talent, including Jason Yarde on soprano sax, Nathaniel Facey on alto sax, Denys Baptiste on tenor sax, and Harry Brown on trombone. Together they are a force to be reckoned with, easily jumping between carefully arranged melodies (which, impressively, Dammers seems to have arranged himself) and wild solo and group improvisations.

The horns are soon augmented by Jamaican trombone legend Rico Rodriguez (who also used to play with The Specials). He can't be found at first, but once the band fire up the ska classic 'King Solomon' by Tommy McCook, the 75-year-old wonders on and gets stuck in. Dammers gets more and more animated as the show goes on, excitedly throwing himself at his wall of keyboards and synths. He even conducts at points, wiping the band into a furious, improvised frenzy. Dark-horse-Dammers quickly proves himself to be progressive, experimental and even virtuosic. He often talks of being too radical for the other Specials, and you can see why.

Quickly, Johnny Clarke is back, brandishing ankle length dreadlocks. And then it's poet Anthony Joseph's turn for a slower, funkier reworking of 'Ghost Town' which manages to sound even eerier than the original. Next, an unnamed Sun Ra tune and The Specials' 'Man at C & A' are blended to create 'Man at The CIA', an apocalyptic song about nuclear war. This moment of seriousness doesn't dismay the audience though, and they repeat back Joseph's politically charged lyrics with vigour. Next, the orchestra perform a wild mish-mash of two Alice Coltrane songs, finishing with a huge ending. Johnny Clarke comes back one last time alongside Arthur Brown for a glorious roots-reggae version of Brown's 'Fire'. Sun Ra's 'Space is the Place' ends a detailed, impressive and highly enjoyable performance. The musicians exit the stage walking through the crowd shaking hands, with the horn players still blowing. Their image and music may be cosmic, but this is a delightfully down-to-earth end to the show.

Above all, today's gig highlighted the quiet genius of Dammers, who fits snugly in with some hardcore jazz heads. Similarly, the jazz players fit in brilliantly with Dammers' vision. It is the free jazz element - placed so carefully alongside massive funk and reggae grooves- which makes this project so spectacular and accessible. The band jump from familiar melodies into free-wheeling group improvisation and back again, still keeping their dance-friendly grooves intact. And they do this passionately yet coherently; an amazing feat for such a large band. Jerry Dammers' Spatial A.K.A. Orchestra is a revolutionary, forward-thinking and genre-defying project that includes something for funk aficionados, reggae lovers, jazz heads or general followers of the avant-garde. Yet none of these influences are 'watered down'. Dammers himself calls this '21st-century music', and I couldn't agree more.

Charly Richardson

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