Lonnie Liston Smith & Gilles Peterson | Live Review

Red Bull Music Academy UK Tour - Bristol

After the standing ovation had settled to an excited murmur and the grins had settled to smiles, my girlfriend turned to me and said: “How the hell are you going to write about that?!”.

We had arrived at the venue, not really knowing what to expect. I’d never been to a planetarium and certainly never conceived of watching an incredibly intimate gig inside one. We dutifully climbed the steps into the ominous silver sphere that sits as a centrepiece in Bristol’s Millennium Square and were were shown to our reserved seats; whispering distance from a full band set up. The ceiling was peppered with images of stars, morphing and changing in irregular patterns and we began to speculate upon the what the evening would hold.

After a short while, the collective conversation was hushed at the arrival of the main man himself, Lonnie Liston Smith, flanked by Gilles Peterson and an interviewer. After being told to “talk amongst ourselves”, it became clear that this would be a very candid affair and we began to realise just how special an event this would be.

Approximately an hour of insightful chat would follow, with Lonnie waxing lyrical about his work with Miles Davis, his difficulties in learning the Yamaha electric organ and his interest in spirituality. Learning that such an influential and talented musician was so grounded and genuine, was a humbling experience and we discussed the interview during a short interval, not realising what was about to come.

“Have any of you seen this place when the lights are off?”, Gilles had asked at the start of the evening, “You’re in for a real treat!”…

A beautiful rendition of ‘Astral Traveling’ begins to flow from Lonnie’s keyboard as the ceiling starts to fall toward us. Mesmerising shapes coalesce with images of the cosmos as everyone settles into their seats and gazes upwards at the stunning visual display. Even the band find themselves lost in the moment, their eyes permanently trained skyward.

The eponymous triangle from ‘Expansions’ begins to ring around the room and feet begin to tap uncontrollably. The occasional whoop and cheer peel out, but the mood is one of awe as the visuals continue to compliment the stunning musicianship on offer from Peterson’s hand picked group of artists.

Throughout the performance, we are all reminded to “expand our minds”, but generally agreed that we never had a choice, that was always going to happen. We were truly blown away and all realised we’d witnessed something very, very special.