Another night, another sell-out gig at the Sugar Club. The air is heavy with the usual sense of anticipation that comes with any of the larger acts that Choice Cuts brings to town, but tonight seems different somehow: there’s an excited buzz because, young or old, everybody in the crowd has grown up to this man’s music. On the stage there’s a drum kit, a bass amp, two synthesizers, two microphones and a solitary malletKAT midi controller that sits waiting for the vibesman to come on stage.
No stranger to our shores, Roy Ayers has a big fan base in Ireland, no doubt due to the fact that he’s the man who’s “always sampled but never duplicated”. This is how he is introduced by his backing vocalist and percussionist John Pressley, while in the background the rest of the band are laying down the heavy opening groove of ‘Can’t You See Me?’ – B-side to the ever popular ‘Running Away’. At 73 years of age Ayers doesn’t like to waste time and as soon as he arrives he gets straight into a frenetic vibes solo. The fact that he is using a midi controller allows him the freedom to switch between an authentic vibraphone sound and more processed or synthesized sounds, but for the moment it sounds just like the real deal.
In less than a minute the dance floor is full and the band take it up a notch by leading straight into the instrumental funk of ‘Evolution’ from Ubiquity’s 1975 album Mystic Voyage. It’s rare to see such energy and enthusiasm from a band so long in the game while at the same time appearing to be genuine about it. They sound so authentic too, as if transported straight from the 70s. The string of hits continues with probably his best-known track, ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’, which lets the crowd take a breather while getting down to the smooth synths & vibe melodies. The band manage to keep things down tempo for a spell with tracks like ‘Searchin’ and ‘Sweet Tears’, with Jamal Peoples often taking the lead with searing lead synths, blending seamlessly with some of Ayers’ more synthesized concoctions.
The night is not without the obligatory call and response between Ayers and the crowd, but it seems so natural so as not to be cheesy. Tales of how he once arrived Shannon and ate a delicious warm cereal, as well as replacing the word Brooklyn with Dublin during ‘We Live in Brooklyn Baby’ make the gig warm and intimate. For one of the most influential jazz and R&B artists of all time Ayers is remarkably humble. It’s hard to believe the man on stage has played with literally the who’s who of the jazz and R&B world, pretty much defining jazz-fusion in the 70s with his blend of smooth funk, and still being a constant source of inspiration for musicians, producers and DJs alike.
The fact that each of the tracks played tonight is from that golden era in the 70s when Ayers formed the band Ubiquity gives the night a sense of cohesion that is so often lost by professional jazz musicians after a long career. There’s a feeling of authenticity that is no doubt due to the choice of instruments and musicians on stage. The band close out with the disco influenced ‘Don’t Stop the Feeling’, letting everyone get loose once more before Sunday night draws to a close. The audience breathes a disappointed sigh when the band decide not to return for an encore, yet at the same time everyone appears to be fully satisfied by the wealth of what they’ve just heard. A rare night for many a music lover.
Photo: Mark McGuinness