Roy Ayers: 24 Kitchen St, Liverpool

By Planet Slop
Mon 21 August, 2017

Packed into a venue that may have been too small for a gig of this size, Paul Riley tries to enjoy jazz legend Roy Ayers during a night of ups and downs.   

For a legendary jazz man and band leader, Roy Ayers plays some fairly small shows.

We’re not sure whether this is a popularity thing or an artistic choice, but let’s assume the latter, as tonight’s show was clearly in demand and a previous visit to the city saw him grace the stage at a packed out Magnet.

We’d rather be in a small venue than an arena, no doubt, but there comes a point where one has to think that sometimes smaller isn’t necessarily better. That point comes somewhere before ‘It’s so hot I am struggling to breathe’ and most certainly before ‘If there was a fire or something then we’re all proper fucked’. 

There was more than enough bodies crammed into 24 Kitchen St to have made the leap to a more sizeable and spacious venue. This show would have been more enjoyable, and perhaps even safer, if it had been migrated to somewhere like Buyer’s ClubLeaf or District.

It can’t be particularly cheap to land artists of this calibre, and so selling tickets becomes even more important for a promoter, but there are more than financial concerns to take into account when planning a show.

As the band took to the stage, it was already uncomfortable, and by halfway through the set a sizeable portion of the punters had escaped to the back of the venue or had moved outside into the courtyard.

We assume it was due to the heat, but then it may have been due to the music. It would be fair to assume that a fair number of people who came down tonight would have been expecting a very different show from the one they got.

Well-known for party jazz/soul/funk renditions of numbers such as Everybody Loves the Sunshine and Searchin’Ayers’ live band brings the emphasis heavily on to the jazz side of things.

That is not necessarily a bad thing, but if people came down expecting something between Parliament and Gilles Petersen then they may have found the evening’s format not exactly to their liking.

Ayers was effortlessly cool fronting up the four piece outfit, with a gravelly yet still on-the-money vocal performance. His vibraphone playing is incredible, such a physical workout and a wonder to behold, particularly during his solos.

This writer normally has a fairly low tolerance for solos, but when the soloist is a performer of Ayers’ calibre, backed by a piano, bass and drums trio laying down a tight and beautiful foundation, the results are sublime. The show consisted of ten-minute-plus versions of songs that were liberally sprinkled with rather solo interludes. Unfortunately, the rest of the band weren’t quite up to the same standard.

When the bass and drums were in the pocket, hitting the groove and keeping things simple, they were really great, and they grounded Ayers’ extravagant performance as a perfect counterfoil. However, Ayers regularly stopped playing and singing to stand watching his keys or bass player take a long solo, and that was where things went somewhat downhill.

The band tried some very difficult things that didn’t land. The bass spent a lot of time playing high up the neck, losing a lot of the feel of the tunes, and the keys at times were just too over-the-top. It also felt as though, at least for this writer, there was not enough of the man we had come to see.

You could watch Roy Ayers solo all day long. Granted, he is getting on somewhat and so one can forgive him taking breaks during the performance. The man is outrageously good on that vibraphone; it is just a shame that his band weren’t as up to the job.

We loved seeing him sing tracks such as …Sunshine, Running Away and Red, Black and Green, but there was perhaps six songs in a set that lasted around an hour and a half. Less bass and keys nonsense and more tunes would have made this show a much more edifying experience.

Photos by Gary Dougherty