Sunday, February 24, 2008

No Static at All

I'm far too late getting the word out that I'm co-presenting a radio show with Sam Andreae from the RNCM starting tomorrow Monday 25th February on south Manchester's ALL FM 96.9. It's a late one running from 11pm to 1am so I'm not sure how many people will be listening but it should be good fun. It's part of a series of EXR Unsigned shows on ALL FM covering all styles of music. The shows will hopefully be available from the website as a 'listen again' but there's one or two things to sort out before this can happen I believe. Initially it's only going to be every other month so we'll see how it goes.

We'll mainly be playing tracks by unsigned local artists and we'll be getting in some of our local jazz talent for interviews and live sessions. On the first show we'll be interviewing sax player Andy Schofield and pianist Les Chisnall about their fab new CD 'Another Place' just out on the Cinnamon Club's new record label. We'll also be interviewing Anton Hunter about his free improvisation night at Fuel Cafe in Withington, The Noise Upstairs (reviewed below).

So give us a shout if you're doing the jazz thing and have tracks you'd like us to play and/or gigs to mention in our listings section. My EXR email address is

Friday, February 15, 2008

Cor Baby That's Really Free

Having promised I would many times, I finally made it down to Anton's free improvisation soirée at Fuel Cafe in Withington last night, The Noise Upstairs - "An evening of uncomposed sounds... combining our backgrounds of jazz, contemporary classical and electro-acoustic music". Good fun it was too with the democratic principle of drawing three names out of a hat to form each improv trio being adhered to.

It was interesting to hear the different 'free' styles. The first trio consisting of a drummer and two saxes was clearly reminscent of classic 1960's free jazz, reminding me a little of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. It was especially effective when the two sax players came together for a long unison note and then drifted microtonally apart giving a bitter tasting atonal whining clash.

The second trio was a cello, violin and a mic'd muted trumpet through a series of multifarious effects units. I'm not at all familiar with classical free improv (any good suggestions?) but this trio again reminded me of stuff I've heard and seen in TV documentaries on people like Stockhausen. Anton joined in for the final ensemble of the evening on mandolin (ok it was a quartet to give everyone a bash). With the addition of violin, french horn (I think!) and electric guitar, much staccato stabs and scratching of bows on the back of violins made for a wholesome aural brew.

I joined in myself (see pic above) for one trio session and had scratch about on a few guitar strings running through buckets of delay and wah wah to create a back wash for my trombone and violin ensemble partners. This went into a heavily delayed Terry Riley'ish arpeggio thing that seemed to go down well with a few folk. Nice evening and highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

You're Never Gonna Do It Without Your Fez On

Word had clearly got around that this visit to Matt and Phreds on Wednesday 30th January 2008 by Bristol based quirksters 'The Blessing' was worth checking out. Being favoured by luminaries including Portishead and Robert Plant no doubt assured a degree of interest from outside the usual jazz rank and file. I caught The Blessing down in Bath a few weeks ago and was very impressed but uncertain whether they could whip up a similar storm on an away match. My fears were unfounded as they put on another great, if ever so slightly less intense show. The general vibe and a few specific motifs referenced the Polar Bear sound but there's a distinctly grittier funkier groove than the Londoners go for. The drummer Clive Deamer's drive and feel was quite delicious, pushing the whole thing along with an uplifting and smiley vibrancy.

The Blessing have no overtly chordal instrument in the line-up. This gives the sound a sense of openness and provides plenty of harmonic freedom for the mash and interplay of the lines from sax player Jake McMurchie and trumpeter Pete Judge. I loved the shamelessly bright and aggressive tone of bassist Jim Barr. It's refreshing to hear such unabashed plectrum riffing in the context of a jazz set. Much of the material had Caravanesque 'fez' minor movements reminiscent of Parker's 'Night in Tunisia' and tunes of that ilk. One or two rockabilly shuffles sneaked in occasionally and there was some prodigious use of noise terror delay effects to keep the tonalities suitably off balance. Pizza referencing track titles delivered with suitably laconic dryness from Mr Barr completed the left field nudge of this cool little combo.