As I stand alone on the top balcony of The Haunt, listening to trap blasting out of the PA, I look down to a packed-out crowd. I remind myself that everyone here, including myself, has come to see a solo jazz drummer perform live. Yussef Dayes nearly sold-out the gig before dropping his debut release, ‘Love is the Message’, selling out days later with only two tracks to his name.
A scenario that would have been unimaginable in the music landscape five, maybe even just two years ago, but here we are today, in a climate where UK jazz is alive and flourishing. So, what a time to be alive; where PR hype, reliability on standout hits, and tactless crowd wooing aside, people have come out in numbers to a gig, solely because they trust the musician. They have faith in their musicianship and talent – a promise to deliver a good show.
There are no doubts, too, as to Yussef Dayes’ abilities. Being without question one of, if not the, most talented drummers within the UK jazz scene. Tonight was no exception, as Dayes graced the stage like a soon-to-be-star.
Head down, walking towards his kit, he sits down to pause only for a second, as a drone backdrops the suspense, before crashing into his iconic chattering beats. With a machine behind the kit, Dayes’ movements are both trance-inducing and explosive, as he flickers from tightly-knit grooves to free-flowing rhythms.
Sharing the stage with Yohan Kebede on reverbed-Rhodes, and Rocco Palladino (son of prolific sessions bassist Pino Palladino) on heavy-led bass, Dayes’ set flowed from improvisation-freestyle-jams to stand-out recognisable tracks, then back again in one continuous take.
However, by far the most well-received songs of the night, were supergroup collaboration ‘Love is the Message’ and Yussef Kamaal’s ‘Strings of Light’, both of which were left feeling like they were longing for something more.
Without Mansur Brown’s slick guitar lead, the trio’s rendition of ‘Love is the Message’ sounded like a caricature cover – as the song moved along slowly, never reaching the climatic epicness of the Abbey Road sessions, missing the vital melodic epicentre of the song. Even the personality and warmth of Alfa Mist’s keys was noticeably lacking. While ‘Strings of Light’ – Yussef Kamaal’s lead single from their superb LP Black Focus – felt a little bit out of place.
Having seen Kamaal Williams (aka Henry Wu) also take Black Focus material for his own trio’s endeavours, both artists seem to fall short and into the same traps as each other. The ethos and essence are still there, however, the dialogue and unity between the musicians aren’t the same.
Both Kebede and Palladino occasionally looked sheepishly over to Dayes, with the odd false start noticeably interrupting the drummer’s flow. Yussef spent the majority of the set with his head down, aggressively focussing his energy and concentration on his craft.
With Henry Wu/Kamaal Williams this worked, telepathically they were able to communicate, while simultaneously competing against one another. Almost showing off who could be more daring than the other with their musical abilities, while still keeping in sync with the other – performing like a poetic disagreement between two people.
Regular PA dropouts and The Haunt’s echoey acoustics made for a distorted listening experience at times. By far the highlight of the set was when special guest (introduced as) Rob JR took the mic to join the trio. Unheard of to myself and, I can imagine, most of the crowd, punk-MC Rob JR brought high-energy to the stage, as he spat between singing and shouting over party-esque jazz back-beats.
When the trio tightens their craft, all these flaws won’t be minor criticisms for long. Yussef Dayes is a unique talent, one that won’t stop growing. With a quiet confidence for greatness, if not a slightly charming and playful arrogance – the leading and celebrated percussionist is destined for fiery future.