Miles Mosley has already started making waves in the UK via a series of extrovert YouTube videos, then as a member of Kamasi Washington’s explosive touring band, and fronting his own unit at this year’s Love Supreme – now he’s back as a headline act. In support are young London-based up-and-comers Vels Trio.
They kick-off with a beguiling blend of shimmering keyboard arpeggios, a deep-toned snare-driven disco pulse and clipped off-beat basslines, like an update on mid-1970s Hancock, or a mash-up between Weather Report and Daft Punk. It’s a deceptively simple formula; there’s no displays of virtuosic limelight hogging, but plenty of creativity is in evidence in the way the trio deftly arrange and re-arrange the textures, swapping focus between Jack Stephenson’s array of analogue keyboard sounds, Cameron Dawson’s effect-augmented bass, and the ingeniously shifting accents of Dougal Taylor’s drums. The set builds til they are making a very big sound indeed, with sweeping keys, overdriven bass and stomping grooves with some nifty details in the hi-hat work, finishing with a polyrhythmic tour de force.
Mosley takes to the stage, an impressive figure in trademark beret, shades and body armour, a look pitched somewhere between a Marvel comic character and Huey Newton. The band smash into some testifying, JB style funk, with Mosley front and centre driving things along on the upright bass and singing in a powerful but light-toned soul voice, akin to John Legend. He works that bass hard, nailing the tight funky lines in tandem with his drummer, the utterly awesome Tony Austin, throwing in slick fills whenever he’s not singing, going up high for a solo, whipping out his bow and hitting a bank of effects pedals for some screaming, Hendrix-style freakout. The writing style owes a debt to James Brown, Sly Stone, and the Lenny Kravitz school of bombastic funk rock – Mosley establishes the band’s credentials by namechecking work with Stanley Clarke and Lauren Hill, but also Gwen Stefani and Chris Cornell. ‘Heartbreak’ is a full-on bluesy power ballad that gives way to an extended effects-drenched bass solo that careers on the edge of feedback chaos, with Mosley wrangling his instrument like an unruly bronco, reining it in within a split second to belt out the chorus.
Between numbers he’s engaging and effusive; his lyrics extol the virtues of hard work, dedication and collective endeavour, as personified by the West Coast Collective of LA-based musicians that launched both his and Washington’s careers. He’s warmly thankful towards the London crowd (“Thanks for making London my number one for streaming stats!”) and they return his good vibes. This unaffected sincerity tempers the LA slickness of the show – there are solo features for Austin and impressive pianist Cameron Graves, who dazzles with a florid display, like Liszt with tattooed biceps, and the trumpet-and-tenor horn section turn in some powerful statements. But, essentially, the band are there to provide a backdrop for the leader’s ebullient personality; his immensely powerful, virtuoso technique and genial good nature win the day, finishing with a direct quote from Hendrix and a triumphant rendition of his best-known number, ‘Abraham’.