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:

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