Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tuneful Tuesday - Manchester Jazz Festival day 5

It was back to the Bridgewater Hall foyer on Tuesday lunchtime to join the Troubadours with Kirsty Almeida, many of them back here too from their concert in the main hall a few days ago. I've tended to associate bass player Matt Owens and Kirsty more or less solely with latin music from La Gran Descarga and also from their latin jam session down at Lamarrs in the Northern Quarter.

Consequently it was really refreshing to hear some country, folk and well, just some good songs emananting from this band of merry minstrels including co-songwriter John Ellis. There was some genuinely beautiful and touching material here from these two, in particular the wistful 'Josie Brown' and the crafted Joniesque 'Cool Down Unwind'. It was an extremely relaxed, warm and welcoming performance with guest spots from Kenji Fenton playing the steel drums and a nice solo from Olivia Moore on the violin. Steve Buckley was again inspiring on the electric and pedal steel guitars. His trademark bottle necked pinched harmonic technique was used to great effect to create some soaring singing high notes. A really nice one this.

Following this I trooped over to the new Leftbank stage near the river to see 'Alex Douglas and John Ellis'. A slightly unusual spot nested in a walkway gap between a couple of cafes but it seemed to work OK. The gig however didn't really work for me. Alex Douglas on sax sounded consistenty a little out of tune to my ear. There were some quite nice versions of a few Beatles songs but the improvisations from Alex on 'Blue Monk' sounded all a bit wrong. Still, I heard someone saying to one of the festival organisers that it was the best thing they'd heard at the festival so far so what do I know?

The evening triple bill in the RNCM Studio sounded like an interesting proposition all round. First on was Olivia Moore's 'Owl Ensemble'. This looked to be a promising one consisting of a string quartet accompanied by piano, bass and drums. There was definate promise in the material but the performance was a bit timid and seemed a little under rehearsed. An admittedly brave drums and piano improvisation didn't really work, partly as Olivia's unamplified violin was inaudible at this point. It would be nice to see how this unit progresses but I think it needs some more work.

Following this was a very free and very intense performance from the riotous 'Grew Quartet'. I think it's quite amusing that free improvisation can sound almost as formulaic as your good ol' X factor winners pop tune with it's own cliches a la jerky and frantic playing of the back, side or underneath of instruments. There were elements of this classic 'free' playing in the Grew sound but nevertheless they were hugely enjoyable to listen to and indeed watch. The quiveringly neurotic percussion playing of Phillip Marks was particularly entertaining with Phillip frequently dropping or knocking instruments over and then fishing in his bag for the next thing to hit. Ping pong balls, paper and screwdrivers were duly rested on piano strings to add a nice dissonant clang to the proceedings. It left me with a smile for sure.

The duo of Graham Clark on violin and dance music legend Graham Massey on laptop, electronics and dusty old ARP synths etc. closed the triple bill set. Not that I'm one to pigeon hole what jazz is or isn't as I find such debates anal and pointless, but this set was quite unusual for a jazz festival and one would presume equally at home at something like Creamfields. I've got quite a soft spot for Krautrocky droning synth stuff so I was quite looking forward to this. Well it wasn't bad, but a little disappointing. Some parts reminded me of the fabulous Harmonia but most of it left me cold if truth be told. My main problem was the insistency of the violin which in this setting I found detracted from the sweeping electronic soundscape. It may have been a concession to give the sound a more jazzy edge but it got in the way for me. Some violin would have been fine but it was in there the whole time and by the end was proverbially doing my head in. Oh well.


Anonymous said...

I find it amusing that people stil can't figure out what "free jazz" is actually about - listening and interacting. It seems quite acceptable for "normal" jazz musicians to spend their careers rehashing old ideas from the 50's and 60's and playing solos that consist of playing a bunch of licks and phrases copied from old jazz records - nobody calls that "formulaic" .. Whatever happened to "the sound of surprise"

Ade said...

Cheers for the comment. I don't disagree on the whole with what you say about 'normal' jazz though I think there's plenty of what might be described as normal jazz out there that isn't formulaic and I think many who play jazz would advocate listening and interacting as essential too. I think both 'normal' and 'free' jazz types as far as they can be identified have their cliches and tired formulas. In all honesty to my ears the Grew Quartet don't exhibit more in the way of listening and interacting than many other acts and were subject to no small degree to the same sort of rehashing. IMHO anyways. Ade