Arriving at the multi venue Leeds University Union we found out that the gig would be taking place in the intimate confinements of Mine. Although the sound system obviously doesn't stand up to the weight of that in the larger Stylus, this was good news as the room was filling up and already a nice atmosphere was developing.
After a short introduction from backing singer John Pressley, the legendary Roy Ayers took to the stage behind his electronic vibraphone, donned in sun glasses and eye catching headgear, and soon after was joined by his three piece band of keys/hammond, bass, drums (and backing singer). Opening up with a medley of tunes ending with the classic Running Away, the energy levels of the crowd were up straight away – something Roy was happy to mention during his inter-song pitta patter with the crowd, reminiscing of his last gig in the city at The Wardrobe two years ago.
The set which followed was a lesson in funk and groove from one of music's true legends, with seminal tracks including Searching, Love Will Bring Us Back Together and Everybody Loves The Sunshine all receiving an airing. With many artists, when they reach their later years they continue to tour despite their standards dropping significantly – this was not the case here. Supported by an incredible band (with special mentions going out to the multiple hammond solos from Jamal Peoples and a stand out bass solo from Donald Nicks), Roy Ayers' vocals were as charismatic and cool as ever with several impressive vibes solos taking the lead in numerous tunes.
Moving on towards the end of the set Roy took a minute to talk about the time he spent with Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti in Nigeria, before continuing to play and dedicate Fela's classic I.T.T (International Thief Thief) (aka Long Time Ago) to the man himself.
Ending the night on his 1979 release, Don't Stop The Feeling, the crowd were in full voice as Roy and the band wrapped up a stellar performance in real style.
Even in a city like Leeds with such a strong jazz scene, a gig like this doesn't come around often so if you were there count yourself lucky, and if you weren't, I hope for your sake you had a good reason...
Review by Alex Ogilvie
Images courtesy of Justin Gardner