Easter's right up there as my favourite Bank Holiday weekend ever.
It's not as gluttonous as Christmas, bar the odd Creme Egg or two (ten). Not as pressurised as the last-hurrah-before-winter August one that forces you grudgingly outside despite it being a bit nippy, and more fun than so-so May. It's an extended break packed full of family and friends, with added chocolate.
Anyway, I digress. Gig.
Live music on a Thursday, especially one preceding a few days off work, is my new favourite thing and Citrus Sun performing at Under the Bridge proved to be the perfect opener to the Easter celebrations.
For those who need acquainting, Citrus Sun are an eight-piece band founded by Incognito's Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick, featuring renowned guitarist Jim Mullen and Incognito's very own rhythm section. Their music is contemporary jazz-based, the sound described by Bluey as "more sparse, as it features the sole trumpet reminiscent of the late Donald Byrd, and there is a cool Latin jazz flavour on some of the cuts”.
Under the Bridge is a great little venue tucked discreetly beneath Stamford Bridge, with a great sound system for amplified soul and framed photos of eminent musicians lining the walls. Jazz FM's Jeff Young warmed up effortlessly and got the cheerful crowd in the mood as they milled in and took their positions.
Bluey, his usual affable and very cool self, introduced the opening act, Francisco Sales, by describing his sound as "of real beauty". The young musician/composer who perched on his stool shyly, tuned his guitar and truly did produce a sound of real beauty; a clear, smooth acoustic tone. With tracks from his debut album available soon, he moved seamlessly between emphatic strumming and a more ethereal, mellow sound, using a loop pedal to great effect. One to watch.
With everyone suitably warmed up and refreshed (thanks easy-access bar), Citrus Sun took the stage. Bluey spoke of the 'legend' Jim Mullen - giant of British fusion jazz and jazz funk - and that the project was born of his love of Mullen's music and his desire to be part of a band with him. He introduced Mullen, Valerie Etienne (Jamiroquai) on vocals and the Incognito rhythm section and with that the show had begun.
This was the launch for Citrus Sun's sophomore and largely instrumental album, People of Tomorrow (Dome Records), and the first song was the opening track from the album, Mais Una Vez (One More Time) with a light and breezy jazzanova feel. What's Going On showcased a rich, beautiful vocal from Etienne, as did a cover of the late Terry Callier's What Colour is Love, with whom Bluey worked with as a producer on several tracks and Mullen toured and recorded with. In my humble opinion, going to a Jazz FM gig is a musical education for the unacquainted and my mind is always opened.
The mid-tempo, latin-jazz feel was unabashedly evocative of Incognito, which Bluey acknowledges in saying that "at times it is obvious that this is the Incognito rhythm section and for that we make no excuses, instead celebrating the fact that this is a new project by the same band with me at the helm”. Cooking with Walter (reportedly inspired by Breaking Bad - for the fans) really got the crowd dancing and funked up the atmosphere. You know it is a good night when even the security staff are dancing, giving it some to Let My Feelings Show, from Bluey's 2013 debut solo album Leap of Faith, co-written with Richard Bull.
Boasting velvety vocals from Bluey and Etienne, distinctive thumbing guitars from the legendary Mullen (readers of this blog will know how cool I think Jim is, after having seen him play alongside Mario Biondi and Guida de Palma and Jazzinho) and the sole trumpet from Dominic Glover, Citrus Sun's set was always going to be tight and consistent, with their trademark fusion blend that straddles soul and groove. On stage, the band were exuberant; Matt Cooper nearly bounced of his keyboard stool and everyone was smiling and dancing in sunny delight.
The Donald Byrd tribute section was undeniably a highlight, and although the Citrus Sun album tracks definitely held their own, this was epic. Etienne's voice was perfection on Wind Parade and Think Twice was effortlessly delivered with added crowd-participation on the 'I really love you, you know I do' lyric. Change (Makes You Want To Hustle) and Love Has Come Around were skilfully delivered. Bluey admitted that The Mizell Brothers production is like the bible for Incognito, and with their spirited version of (Falling' Like) Dominoes it was clear the band live and breathe music.
Sadly, all great things have to come to an end. Bluey ended the night emphatically by thanking '"all the radio stations that play tunes like that, and Jazz FM for being able to celebrate with you. Long may you play jazz, soul and funk!" and bowed to his adoring crowd, before Citrus Sun closed the gig with the album's self-titled track People of Tomorrow. It was a triumphant end.
This was a zingy, uplifting gig and as I left there was a palpable sense of 'YES! IT'S BANK HOLIDAY WEEKEND!' and 'WOO HOO, NO WORK TOMORROW!' and 'HURRAH, I CAN EAT UNLIMITED EASTER EGGS!' in the air. Mostly though, it was the cool, sophisticated music that got us all in the mood, ready to celebrate and think of warmer weather and good, good times.
In the words of Bluey, "The Citrus Sun is rising - come catch the sunshine!".
Now, who could ever turn that offer down?