Friday, November 23, 2007

Moss Freedom Jazz Dance

The Moss Sextet played down at Manchester's ubiquitous Matt and Phreds on Friday the 16th November. I spotted this gig courtesy of musician friends I've hooked up with in Facebook, being duly informed by my news feed that a few of them were attending the 'Moss Sextet'. On clicking through a few links I spotted that band leader Moss Freed is Berklee Alumni and eventually made it to their MySpace.

The Sextet have some really interesting tunes and Moss has clearly worked hard on the sophisticated arrangements. There's elements of Philip Glass style minimalism at the start of 'Obstinato' which rapidly shifts into a classy contemporary chord sequence in 5/4 with a violin adding to the overall jazz classical piquant fusion. 'Crimes' hits you in the face with a fast sharp angular line and then catches you with a warm and comfy funk groove provided by Luke Flowers of the Cinematic Orchestra. Moss goes for quite a twangy trebley guitar sound that I can't decide if I think works, but full marks for going for something different to the usual mellow thuddy jazz tone. I suppose I go for something imbetween, Moss being more at the Mark Ribot end of the spectrum.

So all looked promising for the gig. It was their debut and it's fair to say this showed. It was a nervy performance that was rough at the edges but nevertheless the promise of the material showed through. Many of the tunes are complex and I suspect more rehearsal would have helped but the spirit and vibe hit the spot much of the time. I've seen sax player Kenji Fenton a few times and have always rated his playing but he was on especially good form tonight and really digging in to his solos with some powerful muscular playing. Keyboard player Ed Barnwell's playing was nice and sharp as well. The Sextet have got more gigs coming up so I'm looking forward to seeing them becoming a sharp and well honed act on the Manchester jazz scene that ought to be a force to be reckoned with.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Garbled Wrek?

... and so it was on Saturn's Day the 17th in the novem month of the year 2007 the mighty Jan Garbarek came to Manchester. An expectant public filed into the Bruntwood Theatre at the RNCM to honour the impressive line up consisting of Manu Katché on drums and Rainer Brüninghaus on piano/keyboards. Eberhard Weber was due to be in attendance on bass but this wasn't to be and the spot was filled by Yuri Daniel. Am I the only one who finds it annoying that jazz groups feel they can switch the line up unannounced. It's somewhat ironic that this happens routinely with jazz in particular, as the individual musicians are frequently considered to be as important as the group. I'm sure some people were there to see Eberhard Weber and would doubtless have been disappointed. I was keen to check out Manu Katché and would have been furious if he had been replaced. The irony is that this would utterly unacceptable in the pop and rock world. Imagine the uproar if Led Zeppelin were to show up without Jimmy Page and Robert Plant on the forthcoming tour.

Anyway, to the gig. Jan strode on looking every bit the handsome Nordic God that you might say he is, the rest of the band looking striking in black also. The gig began really well with the first track veritably blowing me away. It started with a moody synth wash and some speculative reverbed sax line fragments. The track then developed through a number of sections with some fantastic playing from drummer Manu Katché. He has a delicious lazy feel that's truly engaging and delightful to bask in. His playing is also precision perfect and never loses drive and force the way many laid back players do. The track was quite a long orchestrated piece all the while slowly building momentum and after a few shifts of gear finished on a knockout high. The mood and feel of the concert carried on more or less the same which worked for another couple of tracks but after this it did start to flag. Garbarek clearly has a different and individual approach but it can start to sound a bit samey after a while and the high register playing was getting quite wearing in the latter part of the set. Much of the piano playing was quite gorgeous with Brüninghaus having a distinct classical twist giving some of his improvised melodies a quaint innocent period charm. As with Garbarek, the sonorities of his playing are noticeably European with far less blues and bop than is usually heard in music going by the name 'jazz'. This is refreshing to hear but can wear thin if it's overdone as I think it was here.

On the whole this was a good gig and it appeared to connect with the audience judging by the atmosphere and applause. Perhaps just a little more variety in the harmony and compositional approach would have made it a much better one.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Maiden Voyage (Slight Return)

After faffing about and making excuses of one sort or another I finally dragged myself down to the Matt and Phreds monthly jazz jam run by sax player Ed Kainyek last Monday. My first experience of this was a good year ago now and hadn't gone too well but that's the way it goes with jams I guess.

This Monday went pretty well I'm pleased to say. First up was a slightly funky version of 'Maiden Voyage' that I think was great. I'm historically a trained funkster having been part of the London 'Acid Jazz' scene when I had the luxury of being a full time musician. Not surprisingly then, this sort of vibe sits nicely under my fingers and I can generally pull it off pretty well. After this track Gavin Barras joined us on bass. We agreed it was nice to finally get to get to play together after having met a little while ago. He seemed into the Maiden Voyage vibe which was good to hear. We then had a crack at 'My Favourite Things'. We did the straight form version without the Coltrane E-7 to F#-7 long modal vamp so it was medium concentration all the way. It's quite a long form without many harmonic signposts so fairly easy to get lost in, but it more or less hung together. By no means my most inspired improv but no disgrace either.

It was great to catch up with pianist Sam Smith of Mrs Columbo, recently returned to Manchester after a years sojourn at the Birmingham Conservatoire. He was a great player before he went and continues to get even better. We had a good chat about various inspirational books on music. It was the first time I've come across house band drummer Ben Gray who seemed a pleasant chap. On the last track of the second set (can't remember it's name) I got up with Jo McCallum and local stalwart, drummer Rob Turner. It was another groove track that I hadn't played before with a few key shifts but looked manageable. It ended up being a long version so I passed on the improv (or I had my head down at the wrong time or something).

All in all a pretty good evening and I'm looking forward to getting out again. Next stop I think will be Ed's weekly jam at The King's Arms in Salford if it's still going.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Polar Bears Melt the North Pole

A special one down at Matt and Phreds last night. Polar Bear visited us up here in the dark wet and windy North pole of England. I saw this lot at the Cheltenham jazz festival last year and was mightily impressed so I was looking forward to another good one. They have such a distinctive style and sound that their particular Polar Bear vibe is established within seconds of the first tune starting.

What really impresses me about this group is that they manage to be very original and really quite avant garde and yet maintain a high level of listenability. There's no thick chordal instrument in the line-up muddying the middle range which helps, allowing the fast saxophone flights of fancy, grunts and squawks the space they need to be heard. The arrangements are frequently quite sparse and some of the horn lines almost childishly naive and simple, all adding to the freshness. A good example is 'Fluffy I want You', essentially a rhythm driven track with a simple two note figure that gets shifted and pushed about in various oblique ways. Dramatic changes of intensity along with gaping empty pauses all add to the curious plot.

Every player has there own unique take on their instrument. Band leader Seb Roachford kicks out a wide repertoire of styles from rockabilly, marching band and funk through to some classic swing and laid back blues with an upright indie band style swagger. Double bass player Tom Herbert gets full marks for being the first double bassist I've heard who manages to get every single note audibly across. He has a cool slightly shy funky feel as well. Both tenor sax players Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart combine the ability to knock out punchy simple lines and yet can get raucous at will. The sheer intensity of Pete's playing sledge hammered the audience into submission in the second set and grabbed the band some of the biggest applause I've heard down at Matt and Phreds in quite a while. Leafcutter John came across much better than I remember from last time. He was busy sampling his mandolin and Pete and Mark's sax to create sweeping echoed pitch shifted drones for the sax players to launch off from. At other times he was using a games console to trigger some electronic blips and beeps . This sort of thing can sometimes sound a bit random and incongruous but he managed to get it to sit in the polar sound perfectly on the whole.

More please!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Northern Uproar

It's been a busy few months on the MCR jazz front. The RNCM is having a particularly good run with 'name' acts Tord Gustavson (great gig, but too short at 1 hours 20 mins), Jan Garbarek and Mike Gibbs as well as a host of home grown acts. Last night was the turn of the Tim Garland Northern Underground Orchestra to shuffle onto the stage. As Tim mentioned many times, the group includes many of our local players such as Mike Walker, Andy Schofield, and Richard Iles. It was another really good one and the first chance I've had to check out pianist Gwilym Simcock who was really excellent. I found his somewhat somber and stern manner amusing and the playing was wonderful. Tim talked about a composition contest he'd set up where he invited entries arranged for big band in a 'Steely Dan' style. They played two of these compositions giving Mike Walker the perfect excuse to let loose with some fiery overdriven Dan'esque style guitar soloing. No thuddy mellow jazz guitar tone here. For my money it was the best I've heard Mike play since the Matt and Phred's gig at the 2006 Manchester Jazz festival. Andy Schofield and Paul Booth on sax and Barnaby Dickinson on trombone were also hitting the sweet spot.

I don't know what it is about jazz singers but for me this was the only bit of the set I wasn't so interested in. There's no doubt vocalist Hannah Jones is a good singer but it just doesn't grab me. One aspect is that I sometimes feel a bit uncomfortable with dodgy jazz lyrics. Interestingly though I often find the singing too predictable in it's style and approach. I don't know if this is just a prejudice of mine and I'm not hearing the subtleties in style I think are present with other instruments or whether I've got a point. I'm not suggesting this is the case for all jazz singers either, although I can't actually think of any I like to listen to. To my ears I hear much more interesting vocals in other forms like popular music (whatever that means) and folk - Liz Fraser and PJ Harvey to name just two female examples from the indie sphere. Maybe I've just not managed to recover from the Fast Show's 'Stepney Green and the New, not quite as good as the old, Headhunters', the "most popular exponents of dinner jazz in the US today". You can hear this fine vocalist in the video below from 7:30 mins in:

Monday, October 29, 2007

Man With the Movie Camera Phone

Saturday saw the return to Manchester of part local band The Cinematic Orchestra. Drummer Luke Flowers and guitarist Stuart McCallum are regulars on the Manchester jazz circuit and have been mentioned numerously on this blog already. The bass player Phil France is mcr based as well I think and the Cinematics used to have both local boys John Ellis and Steve Brown on keys at different times in the past. I'm a really big fan of the Cinematic Orchestra but to a certain extent I wasn't looking forward to the gig as much as I might as I'm not a fan of the Manchester Academy venues at the best of times. They are essentially little more than sports hall spaces that utterly lack atmosphere to my mind. I'm also if I'm honest a bit disappointed with the latest record 'Ma Fleur' that I don't think matches the previous two records, albeit having a few really great tracks. Nevertheless it wasn't a bad gig. The band are near the end of a long tour and looked a bit haggard but the playing had energy.

They are a much more improvisational group than I've seen in the past which some folk may see as a step in the right direction, but I really liked the tight and sparse arrangements of the 'Man With the Movie Camera' era. As much as I love the guitar (being a player of one), I'm not sure it adds to the their sound. In many ways what I liked about the Cinematics was that they sounded very different to most other groups, being both er... 'cinematic' and 'orchestral' as per their apt name and I think this has been lost to some extent. Overall the sound is much more dense and busy. Still, this may be welcome to some and there's now more homage to the 'Art Ensemble of Chicago' influences with a few quite intense free improvisation sections in the set, latterly in the 'Man With the Movie Camera' track itself. Mr Flowers was, as usual, excellent and clearly lapping up the applause at the end of the show. In summary, good but I know can do better.

Short extract of 'Child Play':

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

She Got a TV Eye On Me

I mentioned the '2008: Man with a Movie Camera' experiment in database cinema' in a post below that was part of Manchester Urban Screens 2007. I uploaded an image as I suggested I might and it's nice to see it is being used as part of an extract demonstrating the project. It looks like the project was very successful with the New York based electronic media artist, Perry Bard, being commissioned to contribute to The Bigger Picture touring programme. The uploaded images were shown alongside the original film and it works really well. My own contribution was a photo of my wife's eye and was the first picture I ever took on a camera phone.

P.S. Just noticed Perry has put the picture up on Flickr as well.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Jamming the Whalley

The jam scene in Manchester continues it's ebb and flow with the appearance of a new one at The Carlton Club in Whalley Range on the last Tuesday of every month. I've not checked this one out myself yet but I'm aiming to as soon as possible. It's free for performers and £2 for listeners, boozers, scenesters etc. The Carlton Club is described as "a big comfortable Victorian mansion. It's a bit worn around the edges but has a cozy feel, two giant snooker tables and offers cheap drinks". Sounds really quite charming to me. I heard about this new jam from a recent NWJazzworks newsletter and initially assumed it was something to do with the Extraordinary Rendition Jazz nights, but they're every other Thursday so it doesn't look like they are. I'm not sure who's behind them.

I've also been meaning to get down to the Hedge folk nights also at the Carlton Club that Jon Thorne mentioned to me after one of his gigs. I notice he's playing there in his folk guise - looks promising. The Hedge nights have been off for the summer I think, but are back from October the 15th. I have to confess that I used to be a bit anti folk but I'm mellowing out these days as most folk do. I've spoken to a few people who've been to the Hedge night and have given really good reports. I believe also that it can sell out so it's probably worth getting down early or at least checking with them on that one.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

2.4 Ghz Homing Pigeons

Just spotted whilst catching up on some tweets that a friend and work colleague, Joel Porter has a screening as part of 'Manchester Urban Screens 2007'. It's the curiously titled '2.4 Ghz Homing Pigeons' screening from 3pm to 5pm on Thursday 11 th October in All Saints Gardens. Not an ideal time of day for working folk but it's near to where I work so I should hopefully be able to catch some of it. Joel describes it as such:

"Based on the original photographic work of Edward Muybridge's study of pigeons in flight this work utilises Bluetooth technology to build an interactive environment in which pedestrians control the number of birds based on the number of enabled mobile devices present within a 10m/33ft range. The pigeons appear to fly over a virtual Manchester skyline while commuting pedestrians travel beneath."
Joel had shown me a sneak preview of this in the summer and I mentioned it in a previous blog post not knowing it was going to be part of such an illustrious event. I'm sure it'll take on a whole new life in this large scale context.

Looks like there's plenty of other interesting stuff going on as well. One thing that caught my attention is the '2008: Man with a Movie Camera' experiment in database cinema on from 9am till 10am the same day - "Individuals are invited to upload shots and scenes based on scenes from the original film, creating a database which then streams as a film". Interesting, as I love this film having been introduced to it by the fantastic Cinematic Orchestra record of the same name (also highly recommended). I may try and contribute to this event as all are invited to by the artist.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

My Name is Mike Gibbs

Went to a really inspiring gig by jazz and film composer Mike Gibbs and his Big Band at the Royal Northern College of Music last night. It was very powerful and potent stuff right from the off and immediately upped the excitement levels. To my ears much of the earlier part of the first set was classic 1960s sounding stuff and had me picturing spy's in black and white movies shuffling about near the Berlin Wall . The star studded cast included guitarist Bill Frisell, bass player Steve Swallow, sax players Chris Hunter and Stan Sulzmann and drummer Adam Nussbaum who were all on great form. Adam was really enjoying himself and the energy in his playing was quite infectious. The second set included some more contemplative and unusual pieces along with some rousing standards including an arrangement of Miles' arrangements of Monk's 'Round about Midnight' and Parker's 'Au Privavé'. 'Matter of Fact', a new track complete with a cool repeating 7/4 figure was stretching Mike's conducting skills to the limit. The picked line from Frisell echoed on the piano concluded the track in a most satisfying way. I'll be buying the record this track is on for sure.

Mike Gibbs is the stuff of legend being born in Zimbabwe and trained at the famous Berklee College in Boston, where he continued as Composer in Residence for many years. He has written and arranged for many of the jazz greats over the years including Pat Metheny and John McLaughlin to name just two.

We went along with guitar tutor Mike. A fair few other members of the MCR jazz posse were in attendance including Andy Schofield, Iain Dixon, Nick Mellor, Sam Smith, Jo McCallum and Anton Hunter. Mike, Iain and Andy have all worked with Mike Gibbs in the past, Mike and Iain having played on the 1996 album 'By The Way'. A few drinks in the RNCM bar after the gig confirmed it was a bit of a classic. Some professed to be very inspired and promised to put pen to manuscript paper or fire up Sibelius on getting home. I had a good chat with Mick and Steve who run NWJazzworks and the Manchester Jazz Festival and who I'd alerted earlier that day to the blog awards and recent press this blog has had. Looks like I may possibly get involved in working with them in some way which would be great. A most pleasant evening all round.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Madhouse and the Whole Thing Almost There

The 'new' album by local guitar ace and good mate Mike Walker is at last finally being mixed after considerable delays due to problems with the original producer. This record has been a long time in the making, but it looks like it will finally see the light of day quite soon. Mike is currently working on the second round of the mixdown and reports to be 'well pleased' with the results so far. There's the small matter of the artwork still to be sorted which it's hoped will be less traumatic than getting the mixing done. The album is called 'Madhouse and the Whole Thing There' and has Iain Dixon on saxophones, John Ellis on keys, Mikey Wilson on drums and Sylvan Richardson on bass. Mike says about the record:

"This album is the first under my name. It's about dissonance masked by consonance, and having clear statements despite the density. I wanted the harmony to be supported by the melody. I wanted the rhythm and bar lengths to feel completely natural, even though they're not. I wanted it to be singable, and street-walk whistleable. I didn't want the face to reflect the inner workings."
The intriguing album title is taken from 'The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness', a book by the Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing and is a quote from English literary critic and poet William Empson. Getting the album mixed has proved to be a study in sanity and madness for Mike and Iain who had paid a significant sum of money upfront to the presumed to be trustworthy Steely Dan producer Roger Nichols who is based in the US. Roger accepted the work and the money but then proceeded to do nothing. Progress reports on the mix were given along with promises that it would be ready 'in a week or so'. However no mixes were forthcoming and Roger proceeded to go AWOL. After a year of constant hassling from Mike and Iain, the music was returned unmixed but still no cash was to be seen. It's taken almost two years and a sustained email campaign by Mike and friends, but after much heartache and stress for all concerned they eventually got the cash back courtesy of Roger's boss and have finally been able to go ahead and get the album mixed. The man himself is yet to resurface and has not offered so much as an apology.

I haven't heard a note of the record myself yet so I'm really looking forward to the conclusion of this long running saga.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Gig Preview: Blake Wilner Group

I got a MySpace friend request from this lot a few days ago. I hadn't heard of them before, but they seem well worth checking out if you like jazz guitar in the John Scofield and Kurt Rosenwinkel stylee. They're playing at Matt and Phreds this Thursday the 27th Oct, though I can't actually make it down myself. Some might say their vibe is a little derivative but it's well executed. The first MySpace track 'Mo Mo' is clearly going for that slurry sassy Sco groove and succeeds admirably. 'Interloper' starts off contemplative before kicking into a precise angular but still quite melodic line over a fast swing backing. 'Stormy Friday' sounds like classic introspective Sco again with maybe a nod to a Rosenwinkel chord voicing here and there. Looks like he plays the same Ibanez AS200 that Scofield uses to complete the references. See to hear the tracks and get more info.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Having moved back to Manchester a few years ago now (I'm originally from Stockport), I couldn't help but be amused by references to 'leafy boho' Didsbury, as nice a place as it may be. A Cafe Rouge and Slug and Lettuce do not bohemia make. This for sure is not Hoxton or Prenzlauer Berg (no doubt London and Berlin scenesters will dispute the boho cred of these places too). Having said that, the opening of a fantastic new cafe, The Art of Tea, may nudge it a little more in that direction. As the cafe's MySpace says it "promises to put some much needed alt. back into the Didsbury scene!" - [everybody and everything now has a MySpace - apparently the cafe is male and 29 years old]. You can find this great new place at 47 Barlow Moor Road in Didsbury. The cafe offers "wholesome and hearty food, speciality drinks, wifi access, regular events, rotating art work, an awesome soundtrack and somewhere to pick up a classic novel".

This all began as sad story. We headed down to Zero Records a few weeks ago to pick up a second hand CD and maybe a novel from the The Village Book Store at the back of the record shop only the find the place closed, seemingly another victim of bittorrent mp3 file sharing and Amazon. On returning from holiday in Lakeland we drove past to see the Zero Records sign back outside the shop and the new Art of Tea frontage. One of things myself and friends have been moaning about for ages is the lack of a decent cafe and here it now is! The next day we duly patronised the establishment and I can recommend not only excellent tea, but great coffee and a fine cream cheese and sun dried tomato bagel. Even the side salad garnish excelled with rocket leaves and a decent balsamic salad dressing instead of the usual pointless ice berg lettuce . The decor is a sort of alternative granny style with small knitted doilys on the tables and 1950's standard issue retro sofas.

Not only this but The Art of Tea is hosting free Sunday afternoon 'Red Deer Tea Sessions' run by the The Red Deer Club. Local folk fave, Liz Green will playing there on Sunday the 7th of October at 3pm along with Aidan Smith & Sally Murray. Promises to be a good one, Liz being the winner of the Emerging Talent Competition at this years Glastonbury festival.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Guardian Ring Modulated

Blimey! Realising I've missed a few things whilst I've been away. Just spotted on The Manchizzle that The Guardian did a blog roll feature on Manchester in August prominantly featuring this very blog (see Aug 25th on The Guardian Internet page). Cool! Def looking forward to the awards evening on 10th of October now! Anybody got an August 25th copy of The Guardian I can have?

Enough self publicity for now then. Better get on with the proper stuff ...

'The Ring Modulator' shortlisted for the Manchester Blog Awards

I have to confess that I've neglected this place a little in the last few weeks. Holiday time and all that. Anyways, I've just been dipping back into the blogosphere and spotted that I've been shortlisted for the Manchizzle Manchester blog awards that are part of the Manchester Literature Festival. A nice surprise! Well I've got quite a bit to write about so I better get on with it I guess. I went on a really good jazz summer school in Altrincham just before going on holiday so there's plenty to pass on from that.

The blog awards ceremony is where we get to find who wins. It'll be at Matt and Phreds on Wednesday October 10th and it's free! Get your tickets from the festival website if you want to come along. I had to ring as the online booking form didn't work for me.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Anthony H Wilson

Factory Records
Joy Division
New Order
Durutti Column
A Certain Ratio
The Haçienda


Friday, August 10, 2007

Sad Morning

I was late cycling in to work today. On passing the The Catholic Church of the Holy Name on Oxford Rd it was impossible not to notice a huge crowd of people near the church and lots of TV and media presence. On arriving at the junction with Booth Street near the Royal Northern College of Music the traffic was held back for the funeral procession. One adult and two child's coffins went past, followed by a large number of funeral procession cars. It was a really sad and tearful moment. As I suspected on checking the BBC Manchester website when I got into work, it was the funeral of Beverley Samuels and her daughter Kesha Wizzart, and son Fred who were found murdered at their house in Fallowfield on the 12th of July.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Haç and a Curry

Things are so much easier these days. This afternoon I popped down The Haçienda night club for a quick groove followed by a curry at Al Faisals Tandoori cafe - all in the space of my working day lunch time. The Haçienda was in Second Life of course but the SL Al Faisals was nowhere to be found so I opted for the first life version in the hip MCR Northern Quarter. The Haç was empty so I had to twitter up friends - Art Fossett duly obliging. We checked out the new audio functionality in SL which worked pretty well. We couldn't find an SL 'es' dealer - probably no bad thing.

Al Faisals has been there as long as I can can remember. Very much a basic cafe but great cheap food and charmingly grumpy service. Highly recommended. Apologies for the name dropping but last time I was there Anthony H Wilson was in and a few months ago Mick Hucknall. I appreciate this may put some people off going. Sad to see Tony Wilson not looking too well these days. Check it out if you're nearby.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

A Hard Days Night in Tunisia

I've been off the MCR jam scene for ages now. Last year and the year before I used to go probably every other week or so to the 'All That Jazz' jam at The Arch Bar in Hulme and Po Na Nas when it was happening. The All That Jazz jam has had mixed fortunes over the years as detailed on some earlier posts on this blog. There's been all sorts of rumour mill about what happened but sadly this jam has been shut down since about November of last year. It's a real shame as The Arch Bar was under new management and they'd done the place up nicely with new sofas and even provided a decent PA for the vocalists. However, the council stepped in due to noise issues and installed a noise limiter. This basically cuts the power to the stage and PA if the volume level goes above a certain point for more than a few seconds. When I was based in London playing in a funk band we played at a venue in Camden Town called 'WKD' that had one of these and they do seem to be set to very low volume levels.

Anyway, so in Manchester we seem to have three jazz jams now; a latin jam at Lamarrs every Wednesday run by Kirsty Almeida, Ed Kainyek's straight ahead jazz Jam Session at The Kings Arms in Salford also every Wednesday and a monthly one at Matt and Phreds. I decided to give the latin one a go last night, not that I'm especially into latin jazz but thought it would be worth a try. Turned out to be a tough evening and left me quite dispirited. I went down there on my own and didn't really know anyone apart from Richard Iles who I don't know that well. We chatted briefly but he was playing in the house band and with a bunch of other people. I had to wait a while to get a shot as well. First track wasn't too bad but my playing was a little shaky and my timing wasn't great. Next was 'Oye Como Va', a simple tune but the vibe in the group didn't really allow me to have a shot at improv so that was disappointing. Then a couple of other guys got up and went into the standard 'A Night in Tunisia'. At this point I crashed and burned and had to step out. I left feeling a bit like a useless beginner sadly. I guess it's par for the course and to be expected as I've still got lots to learn in the jazz sphere and I'm clearly not match fit playing live inevitably. Nevertheless it was a bit saddening so I've gotta make sure it doesn't knock me back too much. It's frustrating when you know you can play well but feel like you can't play anything.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Just Noodle About in C

I've decided that my fave discovery from the Jazz Festival was the great young trumpet player/composer/dj/producer Matt Halsall (check out the fab track 'Sending My Love'). I've blogged about the gig below. He's playing with his Magic Bop group this Saturday at Matt and Phreds so I'm really looking forward to that one. We've exchanged a few comments and messages on MySpace and he seems like a really nice fella as well. His band includes the fab Cinematic Orchestra players, Luke Flowers and Stuart McCallum. He doesn't really attempt to define his music style on MySpace but the Festival website descibes him as "a spiritual, free and meditative player who picks up from where the ‘60s modal explorations of Pharoah Sanders, Coltrane and Sun Ra left off".

Having been so into the gig I went off to have another listen to Pharoah Sanders and Sun Ra. I'm familiar with some of Sanders contributions to Coltrane's groups but I've never checked his own stuff out. Got hold of a copy of what some websites consider his master work "The Creator Has A Master Plan" from the 'Karma' album. Classic modal stuff that does more or less stick to one or two chords for a good 30 mins. It's intense stuff and there's some curious almost yodeling style singing that's a little dodgy for my tastes but it is really quite engaging. Very reminiscent of Coltrane's 'A Love Supreme' when the groove sets in after the introduction.

Matt at the Hifi Club in Leeds:

To possibly state the obvious, there's many styles of jazz and it was definitely the modal stuff that got me into jazz. Miles' 'Kind of Blue' with the classic 'So What' of course - obvious maybe but undoubtedly quite brilliant. Coltrane's 'Crescent' CD was huge for me and I've spent many hours improvising along to 'Spiritual' from the 1961 'Live at the Village Vanguard' record. Matt's material is definitely coming from this direction I think.

Mentioning 'modal jazz' got me thinking if I could easily describe what it is without cheating and checking a book. Although I think 'normal' jazz and western music generally are functional and cadential they are still essentially modal in that they generally use one of the church modes, the Ionian mode to derive their basic chords and cadenances. What's referred to as modal jazz also uses the same church modes, usually the Dorian and Phrygian modes. These modes are non cadential and chord sequences based on them tend to be drifty, vague and can have dreamy almost spiritual qualities. The underlying chord sequences in modal jazz will often be very simple, sometimes literally one chord or often just two or three. An example is the Em to F#m sequence on Coltrane's classic take on 'My Favorite Things'. This gives the improviser great freedom but also has it's challenges in retaining the listeners (and your own) interest. A naive view (mine originally and I think many others) is that if you're improvising in D Dorian you can noodle about for ages using the C major (ionian) scale which happens to be the same notes. This sort of works, but the approach has many limitations. We all have to start somewhere.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

MCR Jazz Festival '07 - The Funky Finale

So yesterday was sadly the last day of this years jazz festival. We managed to get into town in town to catch the first act, Sax Assault, featuring a nine piece saxophone section including 'Sir' John Helliwell from Supertramp amongst other notable players. Good strong horn lines were to be expected and were duly delivered with strong direction from the main man, Andy Scott. Really great stuff and a good start to the day even if we didn't manage to get a seat. Amazingly the weather was sunny and the seating area was packed by the time we got there.

We missed the next act but came back for Vibration Music Society featuring Eryl Roberts on drums and my guitar tutor, Mike Walker on guitar. I'd already checked out their MySpace so I knew it was likely to be good one. The local jazz guitar fraternity were there in force - I spotted Jim Faulkner, Nick Mellor and Paul Farr for starters. Eryl was a bit shy about announcing the tracks which made it feel a little impersonal at first but it was great stuff when they got going. My favorite was the track '364A', a Soft Machine style bluesy workout. 364A is the house number of one the band members apparently. We got the CD - highly recommended.

The finale in the square was 'Soul Daddy' featuring our friend the phenomenal Cinematic Orchestra drummer Luke Flowers and Steve Brown on keys. I haven't seen Luke play for a little while as he's been away on tour with the CO so it was fab to catch him. He was on great form and really kicking with some tasty funk grooves that I haven't really heard him play before. The Soul Daddy set was very enjoyable collection of own material and covers very much in the classic funk and soul vein. Probably not the sort of thing I'd go and buy but great fun to swing your pants to nontheless.

Funky Soul Daddy:

The final gig of the festival was over at Matt and Phred's - The Myke Wilson Trio and Stuart McCallum Quartet. Gigs at M&P normally start at 10pm so I was caught out and missed the 8.30 start. They did carry on to do another 3 sets so I caught the 3rd and 4th from about 10.30pm. Stuart was on good form both playing and with his inter song banter that was quite witty. It's good to see him confident like this as he's normally quite a quiet bloke. Some of the solo CD tracks such as 'Rain Cycle' were nicely delivered with the addition of Finn Peters on flute and saxophone. I hadn't come across Finn before, a London based player and part of the Fire Collective. A really great player. The gig had a really nice Manchester jazz community feel. Chatted to Stuart's sister Jo McCallum, Lucy Howells from the The Music Place, Jon Cervantes, Luke Flowers and Steve Brown at various points during the evening. Most of the mcr jazz posse were in attendance.

Well another fab festival over. I'm determined to get my act together and put something in for next years festival. Whether it gets accepted is another matter but it'll be an achievement to at least put something in. Must get back out on the jam scene as well as I've really let that slip this year.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Modal Fridays

A full day of MCR jazz yesterday began with the Matt Halsall Sextet at 11.45am. We almost didn't go to see them but I'm really pleased we did as they were possibly the highlight of the festival so far for me. Pretty much spot on the sort of jazz I like the most this - simple two or three chord modal sequences with great melodies and horn arrangements for the heads. Most of the tunes were Matt's originals and I was really impressed with the writing. It made me feel really inspiring to go off and do some writing myself. The flute and tenor sax player, Roger Wickham was someone I've jammed with a number of times at the Po Na Na bar jams last year but I didn't actually know his name. The band also had MCR stalwarts John Ellis and Ed Kainyek providing some great keys and sax.

Next up was Andy Schofield and Les Chisnall with an intimate gig in the Cross Street Chapel. The venue was very small and packed with people having to sit on the floor in the aisles and in front of the seating. It was great to hear Les playing in such a small setting. Les is a regular tutor on the Music Place jazz summer schools and I've heard him doing some stunning solo piano improvisations during the workshop but it's rare to hear him doing this sort of thing publicly. Although the tune heads weren't improvised on the spot we did get to hear some of Les' gorgeous quiet contemplative improvisations during the pieces. Andy also has a great touch that came across really well in this setting.

In the evening we went to The Green Room for the 'Norma Winstone and Friends' concert. Again it was sold out and absolutely rammed. Consequently it was really hot in there and I was feeling a little light headed at times. It was my first chance to see Nikki Iles on piano, another well established UK jazz player. I'm not that familiar with Norma's material so I wasn't sure what to expect. The quality of playing was of a high standard and the delivery relaxed and assured. However I'm not sure this overall style of jazz is quite my thing. It was nice to see it in a live setting and it was worth going. Mike Walker on guitar can always be relied upon for some tasteful solos. I don't really know why, but I can't seem to quite hack improvised jazz singing. Maybe it's a hangover from the 'Crazy Days and Lazy Nights' Fast Show sketch.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Watching the Thorne

We have some friends, Frank and Moira, visiting us at the moment so last night we took them along to see Jon Thorne's tribute to bass player Danny Thompson at the RNCM. I've seen Jon several times and have a copy of his excellent Oedipus Complex CD, 'Manchester Road'. Generally speaking Jon's music is quite accessible and I know of Danny Thompson's playing with Kate Bush and with an all time fave of mine, David Sylvian, so I was expecting quite a 'melodic' gig. The set was in two halves with the first half being a quartet covering some of Danny's material and the latter Jon's commissioned piece for the festival, 'Watching the Well' named after Danny's contribution to Sylvian's song 'The Ink in the Well' that was a major inspiration for Jon picking up the double bass. The first half turned out to be some of the most free and avant-garde jazz I've heard at the festival and was quite hard going much of the time to tell the truth. This wasn't helped by the somewhat echoey and indistinct sound in the RNCM hall. The slightly mad saxophonist Gilad Atzmon was in attendance providing some suitably intense horn playing. I don't think it was the ideal start for our non-jazz fan friends who had been promised a fairly accessible gig.

The latter half was a much easier ride with some quite moving contemplative and almost classical pieces. Jon was conducting with Danny Thompson on double bass and the addition of strings, harp and vocals to the quartet. Jon described it as the most special concert he'd ever done and it was clearly a very personal and moving experience for him. It was touching to be part of that and I'm very glad we went along. He also paid tribute to Manchester and the nurturing environment that exists for musicians. It feels great for me to be part of this now and I have found also that almost everyone is positive and welcoming. This is quite different to my memories of the London indie 'scene' that was very competitive and quite cruel in many ways. It's taken me and Jane a while to settle in Manchester and this really helps us feel more content here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The World is Joel's Imagination

Like many people who like to refer to themselves as musicians, I have a day job. In my case this is working on Interweb stuff for the University of Manchester. I believe the bassist Pete Turner works here as well and I suspect there's a few others. It's not all that bad really. One of the work highlights of the year is our annual bash, IWMW 2007 (at which I gave a workshop 'Knowing Me Knowing YouTube'). I met photographer, artist and fellow interweb person Joel Porter there a few years ago. Somehow we usually don't manage to catch up between the event each year but thanks to Twitter I suspect we might this time. It was via Joel's Twitter that I found out about his upcoming exhibition at Cube entitled 'The World is My Imagination':

"Nine artists and collectives are exploring the miniscule as an artistic interface in video, networked and interactive installations, digital sound sculptures and photography, found objects and custom built environments."

Sounds suitably arty so, being the scenester I am, I'll doubtless attend at some point (opening night tickets Joel?). Joel has also developed an web application that tracks how many people have bluetooth enabled their mobile phones within his vicinity and represents this in real time as flying pigeons. He's a little surprised that Google aren't willing to fund extra development on this project. He's also GPS enabled his mobile phone so you can see exactly where he is. Rather him than me.

The Chosen

Didn't make it to much yesterday. Just the 'The Chosen' in the lovely St Ann's Church in St Ann's Square. Described as "Arabic rhythms merge with jazz fusion to create a very intimate, sublime and contemplative sound". I guess that more or less sums it up. There was some very nice stuff in there for sure. It was their first gig and I think there was some nervousness which held them back a little. On the whole it was quite moving but some nervy playing and possibly some amplification issues detracted a little. The cello was mic'd up and occasionally sounded a bit muffled and plunky but generally sounded sweet.

There was much use of looping which really has become popular with jazz musicians (in Manchester at least). Stuart McCallum uses looping extensively as does Neil Yates and I noticed Graeme Stephens using it a fair bit. The Line 6 DL4 seems to be the device to use. I used to really be into looping, being a big fan of Fripp and Eno and the whole frippertronics thing. I had to make do with very short echo times from my old Boss ME10 effects unit but you could get some great sounds by fading in chord or layering notes using a volume pedal. The fading in means you can't really here the start and end of the loop so you get a long sustained drone that you can play over. The long delay times you get now means you can easily sample and loop long sequences of chords and improvise over the loop. Tons more on this stuff at the long standing website 'Looper's Delight'. Reckon I should get back into this.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Noise Upstairs

Two gigs last night. Julian Argüelles as part of the fab Learn Live series of events and Jon Cervantes new outfit, Current Affairs.

The Learn Live events are basically:

"informal talks by each of the featured artists in a relaxed and friendly venue. We wanted to create a place where you could hear great gigs from internationally performing artists and ask them about their lives, loves and music!"
I've been to several of these now and found them really enjoyable and useful. They're normally held in the RNCM Students Union and the attendance has generally been quite low so I'm really hoping they can manage to keep them going. Surprisingly few students show up - most people seem to be usual MCR jazz mafia. This one was well attended however with the Jazz Festival publicity behind it. Julian covered some of the issues of jazz education. This has become a big business since the 1970s and he made the point that it can be a problem with students looking to be given everything and maybe not going and finding things out for themselves. he thn talked about improvisation. He stressed that many of his favorite players with the exception of Coltrane were not master technicians. It's great to have facility and technique but there's a danger it can get in the way of expression and feeling. Music isn't supposed to be a competitive sport.

I then went over to Matt and Phreds to see Jons Current Affairs. It was quite Steve Coleman and very fusiony at times but there were some really good grooves in there. Quite liked the poetry style vocals. It's good to see Jon's finally got something together. We've met at jams many times over the last couple of years and played together briefly in a funk band, the Vibrant Family Collective.

Also finally chatted to Anton at M&Ps. I've known who he is for a while but our paths didn't quite cross for some reason and hadn't spoken to him before. Had a really good chat actually. I was really excited to hear he's involved in setting up a free improv jam night called 'The Noise Upstairs' at Fuel Cafe Bar in Withington - sounds really amazing:

"The idea is an improv-jam night combining our backgrounds of jazz, contemporary classical and electro-acoustic music. In order to create a totally democratic evening, the way we're running it is; if you want to play, put your name in a hat at the start of the night, then ensembles are created at random by pulling, say, three names out at once (depending on how many people turn up and so on) and then you play for 10-15mins... Bring instruments, laptops, voices and toys!"
I've got high hopes for this - reminds me of some of the amazing sounding nights that used to happen in Soho in the 50s and 60s that I've read about. Withington is very studenty and quite a young crowd so I'm hoping I don't feel too much the old git. I'll have to give it a try for sure.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Old Nick and The Magic Hatters

Day 3 of the Jazz Festival. Managed to take lunch early and catch 'The Magic Hat Ensemble' in St Ann's Square. So much magic was there that the rain even held off. On the whole it was fast bebopy stuff that's not so much to my taste but kinda fun live. Lots of complex fast riffs and dramatic tempo changes. Mostly standards I think but I missed the first 10 mins. The guitarist was using a big Gibson ES 175 style type thing. He picked every note though with the telegraph wire strings that some players use you can't do much else - can be a bit macho in a way. I prefer a bit more expression in the playing but he handled the fast runs incredibly well. Would leave me for dead I'm sure. Very sophisticated keys and all round impressive musicianship.

A nice surprise was to bump into Nick Mellor in pretty much the exact same spot as this time last year. Haven't seen him at all in the meantime but we vowed to meet up for a jam or something soon. Hope we do. I'm sure I could learn a lot from him ('Guitarist' magazine's Guitarist of The Year 2002)

Onwards to Arguelles this evening ...

Vibes, Echoes and Angular Twangs

I was feeling a bit weary and kinda sad yesterday morning (booze downer maybe) so didn't really feel like making the effort. Managed to drag myself out and fortunately day 2 of the MCR Jazz Festival didn't disappoint. It was in the foyer of the Bridgewater Hall and very well attended.

First up was Lewis Wright, a quite amazing vibes player at only 19. How someone gets that good at that age is amazing. His own material was great and some good standards choices such as a couple of Chick Corea tracks made for a fab set. One to watch I guess.

Wasn't sure about the next act, The Graeme Stephen Sextet in the first track or so but it drew me in after a bit. Very unusual guitar improv. The green Line 6 echo loop box the guitarist plonked on the floor is always a good sign. Not really sure what the hell he was doing but the force and tight timing in his playing made it work. Could have been unusual scales or free playing - prob mixture of both. As anyone who knows me knows, I'm a sucker for a good groove which they duly provided about half way in and that was good enough for me. Def worth checking out.

A local fave, Neil Yates and his New Origins were up next. They seemed nervy and the first few songs lacked confidence and drive but they found their feet after 4 songs or so. New band members so to be expected. Another one of those celtic/folk/jazz fusion type things that makes me fear a Spinal Tap fiasco with druids, stonehenges and riversdancing but he made it work. There were definite jolly folky melodies in there but another tack he seemed to take was using fast celticy folk rhythmic figures with more jazzy chords and sequences. Worked for me as I bought the CD.