Roy Ayers at the Jazz Café, review - still transporting us to funky heaven

Credit: Ravi Chandarana

Roy Ayers, living legend!” announced the man in the orange jacket, lurid under the red lights of the Jazz Café, to a ragged cheer. Roy Ayers certainly deserves the title. Though he started out as a straight post-bop jazz musician, he was there at the start of jazz-funk and acid-jazz, that combination of jazz, funk and hip-hop which so annoys jazz purists. He also has the distinction of having more hits sampled by rappers than any other artist.

So unlike many senior jazz musicians, he has a foothold amongst the younger audience – as was clear from the crowd on this occasion. Ayers picked his way on stage wearing an African shirt, a snake-tooth necklace, and some rather fetching blue silk headgear. With barely a pause he plunged into Searching, a hit from his 1976 album Vibrations.

Credit: Ravi Chandarana

Immediately, as if some magic elixir had been secreted into the air, we were transported to funky heaven. “I try to get a happy feeling into everything I do, because that’s the way I am,” Roy is often quoted as saying, and for the next hour or so he succeeded. Admittedly the nature of that happiness has changed somewhat over the years.

The sleeve of his 1979 album, No Stranger to Love, shows Ayers as the bare-chested love god surrounded by adoring nymphs, in a style that wouldn’t pass muster in these more politically correct times. Now aged 76, Ayers is more the naughty uncle, the voice engagingly raspy as he called out “don’t the stop the feeling”, his eye roving over the audience with a self-mocking show of appreciativeness. The flesh may be somewhat weak, but the spirit is certainly willing.

Credit: Ravi Chandarana

The man in the orange jacket turned out to be keyboardist Mark Adams, who was a dab-hand at that special kind of jazz-funk improvisation which teases at the same horny lick over and over, as if scratching an itch.

Ayers was more ecstatically varied in his vibraphone improvisations, vaulting up and down the metal bars in ways that often had an African flavour (Ayres toured with the Afro-beat star Fela Kuti in the Seventies, and the influence is clearly still there).

Credit: Awakening/Redferns

In truth the show was a bit of a shambles. There was much “vamping ’til ready” while the quintet tried to figure out who was playing the next riff. Guest vocalist Louise Golbey seemed unsure what her role was. But these confusions only momentarily lowered the temperature. As Ayers’s biggest hit says, ‘Everybody loves the sunshine’, and while he was on stage, we basked in it.