Rarely has an American artist made so durable and warm a connection with the British public as has the vibraphonist and singer Roy Ayers. Since the acid jazz movement of the early Nineties - a style which he prefigured by at least 20 years - Ayers has probably spent an average of a month each year in the UK, drawing packed audiences again and again while other home-grown names basked briefly in the limelight and then disappeared.
Ayers knows what his fans want to hear and always delivers. That he can still make numbers such as "Everybody Loves the Sunshine", "Can't You See Me" and "Runnin' Away" sound fresh and vital when he must have played them every single night for the past 20 or 30 years is quite amazing; but not surprising when one considers that he evolved long ago from being a promising bop musician into a jazz funk entertainer.
The musicality is there when Ayers' hands fly across the vibes during a solo, over backing from tight drums, full-on synths and keyboards and clean, staccato guitar chords. It's also there in the impeccable arrangements that bring the band up short for the unison riffs which punctuate instrumental sections.
But Ayers doesn't want the crowd merely to admire the sheen of the band's expertise. He wants them on their feet, dancing, shouting, joining in the call-and-response vocals, and in this he continues to succeed. Not only did just about everyone in the Jazz Café sing along to "Everybody Loves the Sunshine", someone even brought up a painting of Ayers which he signed on stage in the middle of the set.
The palpable affection for Ayers is there partly because he never goes through the motions. He reworks old tunes so that something new can still be brought to the party. "Poo Poo La La", his hilarious monologue, has been shortened and changed to "Let Me Kiss You On Your Moo Foo Boo Foo", with a new section added. Saxophonist Ray Gaskins read out a letter from a fictitious fan, one Dorothy Hore-Lick, in which this elderly Home Counties lady explained her worry that her Moo Foo Boo Foo might be broken after an accident involving garden vegetables and some kitchen utensils. Gaskins' accent had listeners in tears of laughter.
After an hour-and-a-half, and another 20 minutes signing CDs, Ayers made his way up to the dressing room, his pin-striped jacket damp after his exertions. But the beret, the silver chain, the spats and the grin were all in place. Not bad for a 67-year-old. The Poo Poo La La is definitely still intact.Reuse content