‘Leeds’ and ‘jazz’ aren’t two words you hear in the same sentence often – so when Levitation Orchestra played Headrow House last Friday, I was keen to investigate. I was unsure how the mellow atmosphere of their most played tracks would translate to a sticky Leeds dancehall on a Saturday night – but I had every faith they’d put on a show.
The warm-up act, Portraits, was already on stage when I arrived and slithered in to join the hypnotically swaying crowd. I swayed with them, marvelling at how different the crowd inside was to the people on the street seconds earlier, morphed from cropped haired lads in Stone Island garb to Doc-clad hipsters with top knots.
The pixie-cut bassist, grinning, nodded in rhythm with an eye-closed trumpeter as he grimaced with the rises and falls in the music. They played loose and free and wild, with solos taken seemingly on impulse. I nodded along, sipping a cider, and smiled to see the proud parents of the drummer standing front and centre of the crowd, unsure of how to dance but keen to get the best view. The band was a strong bunch, sonically in sync and blatantly having a ton of fun.
The next act was a group called Mangonata, and their jazz was polished and bold and adventurous. Through a succession of fiery solos they led the crowd on a journey through up-tempo funk, veering tantalisingly towards salsa and ska at the most boisterous peaks. A skinny hipster with an enviable jawline slapped the bongos and cowbell, while across the stage a straw-haired keyboardist leapt into a keyboard solo straight out of Green Onions. I chuckled to see the saxophonist tapping not one but both his feet during his solo, while the talented trumpeter to his left played with her eyes closed, occasionally opening them wildly in preparation for a particularly big toot.
At the end they gave a roll call for the band and received whoops and cheers and yelled requests for an encore.
Finally, after a slight delay, Levitation Orchestra crowded onto the stage – all eleven of them. From my vantage point I couldn’t even make out all members of the band, nor their instruments. There was a giant harp and a lot of brass – I can tell you that much.
After some minor issues with the double bass (“Mr Soundman, we need help. We need some bass up here. Bass to make the batty shake”), the band launched into a full-hearted groove, with every crevice of the hall occupied simultaneously with good vibrations. I found myself swaying with my eyes closed at one point – a rarity. Whether this was due to the jazz or the many pints of cider, one can only wonder.
Their second track was the trippy odyssey of ‘Life is Suffering’ – which is far more ambient and tranquil than it sounds, promise. Their flautist and harpist teamed up to build a pensive and beautiful soundscape doused in oriental flavour, over which vocalist Plumm showed off her haunting and atmospheric vocals.
With some incredible talent on show and a lot of love, it made for an excellent night, and a reassuring sign that the Leeds jazz scene – although hidden out of sight at times – is not only alive, but thriving.