By Claire Garber
In 2015, after a 14-year hiatus, the ‘angel of R&B and neo soul’ decided to release his third album entitled ‘Black Messiah’. Prior to the Montreux Jazz Festival gig I had listened to approximately none of it. D’Angelo wasn’t on my auditory radar.
If I am honest, I spent the first few minutes of the concert trying to catch a glimpse of Questlove, the drummer from The Roots (of whom I have a personal soft spot). But this was quickly (very quickly) superseded by an interest in the band, a ramshackle group of misfits who were completely mesmerising. Because D’Angelo had managed to put together a group of raw talent; musicians who play music because it’s a need, not choice. What they have created together is seamless with immense depth; a mix of soul and funk, sounds of Prince, musical interludes. All of which rolls into each other like one long unending performance, more in keeping with a West End Musical telling a 90-minute story than a gig punctuated by a series of separate tracks.
At times, I felt like I was watching the front room of James Brown, the early hours of a Sunday morning, a group of unlikely reprobates, creating something beautiful completely organically. There were hints of Ray Charles, of Prince, of James Brown, before the mood shifted towards Spanish undertones mixed with a bassey jazz twist.
There were moments mid-gig when it seemed like he had lost the audience, but this had to be forgiven because what he has created is unapologetically un-commercial. It’s the difference between an artist needing to create music, and a label needing to sell records.
D’Angelo and The Vanguards at Montreux was, in short, a revelation to me.
They have stepped back into the limelight with ‘Black Messiah’, and the limelight really, really suits them. They are a mesmerising group of artists to watch and their music 100% deserves your time.