English phenomenon Jacob Collier may be the most immensely talented musician I have ever seen live. As hyperbolic as that may sound, the proof was in the first of his two performances at Anthology on Friday.
The first thing I noticed about the live performance of the London-based multi-instrumentalist was his irrepressible energy. The 22-year-old literally jumped from keyboards to upright bass to drum set and back again, ingeniously utilizing looping techniques: the least gimmicky, most legitimate one-man band there could be.
Collier opened the set with two exquisite covers -- Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry 'bout a Thing" and "Close To You" by Burt Bacharach -- establishing his soul and funk credentials early on. He then settled into one of his more popular original tunes, "Hideaway," which stripped away his typically virtuosic, if grandiose, instrumentation in favor of subtle fingerpicking on an acoustic guitar and the kind of sexy vocal acrobatics one heard from the late, legendary Jeff Buckley. Collier's reedy yet sensual baritone frequently leapt into a gorgeous, crystalline falsetto.
I also got the sense that this young prodigy could have excelled in virtually every conceivable genre. As they are, his compositions sound rather like the work of a jazzy Brian Wilson (indeed, Collier has an excellent version of The Beach Boys' "In My Room" in his repertoire).
But ultimately, it's clear that Collier is most interested in being himself, even when interpreting songs like George Gershwin's "Fascinating Rhythm," with which he closed the show. The Collier cover was sped up, highly kinetic, and infused with beat boxing that sounded entirely organic to the piece.
If you didn't get a chance to hear Jacob Collier, you should stop whatever it is you're doing right now and listen to his music. Seriously. I wouldn't at all be surprised if his performance turns out to be the highlight of the entire festival.
Jacob Collier won't perform again during this year's XRIJF. Check him out at jacobcollier.co.uk.
After Collier's spellbinding set, I made my way over to Christ Church, where a very different English jazz musician was performing. Pianist Gwilym Simcock played music that has a similarly undeniable groove, but here, there was something deeply and intangibly bluesy at work. Simcock dug into dense but accessible chords, laying beautifully vertiginous melodic lines on top of the rich harmonic framework.
An incredibly fluid piano player, Simcock immersed the listener in delectable phrases that seemed to have no beginning or end. As a composer, he was overflowing with ideas, and melodies bubbled over without ceasing. His music was easy to listen to without being simplistic. The result was jazz that was somehow both introspective and effervescent, which made for a highly enjoyable listening experience, especially amidst the acoustics of Christ Church.
Gwilym Simcock won't be playing again during this year's XRIJF. gwilymsimcock.com.
If the first day of this year's Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival was any indication, there are plenty of awe-inspiring performances to come.