I’ve seen Retrospective For Love perform many times. Every show so far has triggered a dual emotional response. Initially I’ve been hit by a surge of joy that original, clever and soulful music is still being made today. But somewhere on my journey home I get a sour taste in my mouth, due to the fact that, to my mind, they haven’t been getting anything like the attention they deserve. I have high hopes for RFL, whose influences range from J Dilla to Chet Baker, and I won’t be content until they’re headlining Glastonbury and beyond. That’s the attention they deserve. But late at night on a very cold and windy Saturday in March 2015, several things prompted me to feel that there is something of a sea-change happening in the career of this multi-national seven-piece neo-soul outfit… It was 11.30pm by the time frontman Davide Scortino greeted the audience at the Brixton Jamm. Wild afro, Sicilian drawl, cheeky smile: “Hello Lovers…” As they launched into ‘Leave me Alone’ the thronging audience were simultaneously transfixed by the strangely clunky, slightly unnerving groove. Although Davide is the frontman and songwriter, each band member has their own distinctive vibe on stage, and I can get fixated on any member’s idiosyncrasies for whole songs at a time. In this opener, bass-player Agostino grabbed my attention – how he held the reins of the groove, playing tastefully and inventively, producing a thunderously deep sound that resonated through my insides. Throughout the gig I was taken in by the spaced-out, effortlessly cool and sleepy jazz keyboardist Gaba, the still and stoic yet equally magnetic trumpeter, Hanno (who looks like a young Ginger Baker), backing singer Leslie’s constant rhythmic, sexy grooving, Alessandro’s crazy guitar patterns, the disconcerting beats of new drummer Daniel Bond, and of course Davide… “Some of you might have heard,” he said, “that we’ve just been signed to BBE Records.” (Former signings include J Dilla, Paul Weller, will.i.am and Roy Ayers.) Clearly most of the audience were already clued into this news, and erupted in approval. Davide continued: “This next song is called ‘The Picture You Show Me’ and it’s the first single off our album.’’ Single? Album? Record deal? Positive things happening to a band that actually deserves it. Davide leant forward with a fighter’s stance and a wide eyed, wired look of complete earnestness and self belief. He gesticulated aggressively as he spat the visceral verse rap, Leslie joining in to punctuate certain phrases. When the song arrived at the chorus, the two singers were separated by a major third, and united by the huge descending melody “Whaooooh”. It was simple and immediately accessible. This brings me to perhaps the most important fact about RFL. There are many bands out there with virtuoso musicians who gel and who can hold down a good groove, but without a descent songwriter, who cares? Davide is a versatile writer who has the ability to craft catchy hooks with edgy lyrics. Once the mainstream has gotten hold of this band, the media will be desperate to use ‘Kill Me’, ‘Empty Bottles’, ‘Sky With No Clouds’ and countless others for adverts, film and radio. For while nearly all members of the band are educated in jazz theory and have encyclopaedic knowledge of music from all different areas, the thing that sets them apart is the ability to write music that relates to people on all levels – not just hip-hop enthusiasts or jazz boffins, but everyone. Now, it might be due to the fact that they have a new drummer, but there seemed to be an urgency in the band’s playing that I haven’t noticed before. Agostino seemed to pound the strings with a more spiky and aggressive force, the new drummer hits harder, and the songs sounded generally fatter and heavier than I have heard them. And as I left this particular gig, I could taste something sweet (could have been all the sugary drinks). But also, it was due to a feeling of satisfaction that momentum is building for this remarkable group. I can begin to see the long road of well deserved recognition carved out ahead of them.
Words by Charlie Hannah. Read more by Charlie at The Dentist