Fantastic Negrito returned to London to give another brilliant, ebullient performance. The now Grammy-garlanded ‘Last Days of Oakland’ album still forms the bulk of the set, along with a smattering of newer material like ‘The Shadows’, but there was an extra assurance about Negrito and his band which allowed them to stretch the songs out for plenty of moments of vocal and verbal improvisation. Negrito’s patter within and in between songs would almost suggest a second career as a stand-up, but the kind who makes you think as well as laugh.

Starting ‘Working Poor’ a capella before the band swung in behind him, Negrito, a rangy figure resplendent in cravat and waistcoat, is hard to shift your attention from throughout the night. As a self-described “recovering narcissist” he quite literally seeks the spotlight, yet it’s as much to give lightly-delivered messages about the need to struggle against the “ignorance” behind racism, or to relate tragic tales of the violence that has lost him friends and family members, as it is to obtain any ego stroking for himself. His four-piece band seem to lack any ego at all, with barely a hint of a solo throughout, yet they are superb: a well-oiled unit that gives Negrito the foundation he needs and does it with a mutual understanding of him and each other that makes the music – a blend of blues, rock, funk and soul - seem less conscious creation than simply natural expression flowing through them. Unjust though it might be to single anyone out, the drummer deserves a special mention for wonderfully flexible playing, relaxed yet strong, that he delivered in the same seemingly effortless manner as his bandmates.

‘Hump Through the Winter’ is a particular highlight, its tale of struggling in poverty reflected in a grinding, tense groove that has brief moments of release as Negrito resolves to “Push a little stronger/A little harder”. ‘Lost in a Crowd’ is another: though the music could hardly be further removed from heavy metal, there’s an extraordinary, crushing intensity to the playing and Negrito’s anguish.

The set climaxed with the emotional peak of blues standard ‘In the Pines’, a typically great collective performance yet which rarely allowed you to look anywhere but at this compelling singer who, in middle age and after several false starts, is finally being heard. An image lingers of Negrito, who’d confidently prowled the stage during the set, finally still in the spotlight, sweat dripping around his eyes like tears. And after the acclaim he’s off the stage, striding though the audience in this intimate club, a narcissist perhaps, but one who gives out a lot of love and compassion.

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Commenting On: Nell’s Jazz and Blues, London 28/7/2017 - Fantastic Negrito

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