Saturday, July 31, 2010

Passion, Grace and Fire - Manchester Jazz Festival Day Four

Arun Ghosh Quintet, Stuart McCallum and Simcock/Walker/Swallow/Nussbaum, Band on the Wall.

mjf introduces: Sam Rapley/Adam Chatterton Quintet, Festival Pavilion. Monday 26th July 2010

This was the first of the 'mjf introduces' series of mid afternoon concerts showcasing new jazz talent from around the UK. A great start it was too from the Sam Rapley/Adam Chatterton Quintet playing some classic straight ahead standards. I've seen this group a few times now, and they always do a cooking version of Wayne Shorter's 'Witch Hunt', today being no exception. Trumpet player Chatterton's solo was strong and strident, and there some nice prodding outside the harmony soloing from piano player Mathis Picard.

The band have a great affection for the tunes of the great Kenny Wheeler, treating us to a take on his 'Everybody's Song But My Own'. They captured the typically Wheeler wistfulness really well with thoughtful solos from Sam Rapley on the sax, and Chatterton on flugelhorn. Drummer Calum Lee continues to get better all the time, being strong and fluid throughout, and bass player Tom McCredie got a chance to show us his mettle on the vulnerable sparsity of 'Blue in Green'.

It was over to the Band on the Wall in the evening for BBC Radio 3’s Jazz on 3 live broadcast with the Arun Ghosh Quintet, a solo premiere from Stuart McCallum and the Simcock/Walker/Swallow/Nussbaum group. There was a really fantastic buzz in the place for this slightly different to a normal gig setup. It was interesting in itself to observe how Jazz on 3 go about organising things so that a concert can go out live over the air. There was a little rehearsal for us the audience, so we knew when the show was actually live, and it was interesting to see the Jazz on 3 team doing their best to cue the bands in for the end their set. Not easy.

Arun Ghosh can be pretty intense any night of the week, so not unsurprisingly he was really fired up for this one, the band delivering a whirlwind of a set leaving the audience stunned. Corey Mwamba on vibes and Myke Wilson on drums played with such force I'm surprised their respective instruments survived the session. The sheer energy kick of this performance alone was enough to make it hugely enjoyable, but it did come at the expense of the music to a certain extent, the brooding darkness of the usually majestic 'Uterine' in particular being somewhat lost through a slightly overcooked performance.

It was up to Stuart McCallum to prevent the intensity levels from getting out of hand with his premiere ambient loop suite, something he managed expertly. It was classic dreamy McCallum complete with echoey washes of sound over some simple repeating sequences. The piece is intended to be a response to the over-complexity that much of jazz exhibits, and the simple and fairly static harmony reflected this aim well.

Guitarist Mike Walker's contemplative solo introduction to 'Clockmaker' continued the reflective mood for a few minutes more before the band joined in for the warming tune melody. Legendary bass player Steve Swallow was straight in for a delightful melodic and quite guitary solo. Next up was pianist Gwilym Simcock's 'You Won't be Around to See It' based on the idea of Swallow's 'Real Book' album that takes the chord sequences to standards and puts new melodies to them, in this case to 'Softly As In A Morning Sunrise'. The edgy angular head section of the tune soon gave way to a gorgeous bluesy groove. Walker never misses the chance to make the most of these opportunities, and dug in with some sparkling pinched harmonics and arpeggio flourishes. Simcock took the track in a more swing feel direction opening the way for a cruising solo from drummer Adam Nussbaum.

The band rounded off with Walker's boppy 'Laughlines' counted in at such a high tempo by Walker that he almost outpaced himself on the complex tune head. Simcock matched the velocity with a blistering high energy solo, the track ending the evening on the high that it began. A good one in the bag for Jazz on 3 I think.

You can hear the broadcast for a few more days at the Jazz on 3 website.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Folk, Funk, and a Firestorm - Manchester Jazz Festival Day Two

Magic Hat Ensemble, Glazz, Tony Woods Project, Huw Jacob, Liane Carroll Trio. Festival Pavilion, Albert Square, Manchester. Saturday 24th July 2010

What can you say about the Magic Hat Ensemble? Always good. Always fast. Always lots of tempo changes. It's straight ahead boppy stuff, if a little twisted and mangled, all delivered with panache and wit. Maybe a tad scrappy here and there, but all very charming and most enjoyable. Good start.

Glazz, a trio from Spain were for the most part a rock funk thing, overlaid with lots of overdriven blues from the guitar of Jose Manuel Recacha. There were fewer prog rock sounds in their than their influences might have suggested, though I heard a few Pink Floyd quotes on one tune in particular.

The most unusual and interesting part of their sound came from the addition of flamenco dancer Lucia Ruibal, sister of the drummer Javier. The sound engineers had somehow managed to amplify the stage so you could hear Lucia's complex flamenco foot tap rhythms clearly set against Javier's steady grooves. The set in many ways could have done with a bit more of this, as Lucia only came on for two songs. Though I prefer not to label things, I'd say the main 'jazziness' came via an homage to King Crimson called 'Stressreo', the metrical figures clearly referencing Crimson's 'Discipine' era. Glazz are not entirely my thing, but they have a strong sound nonetheless.

Returning to jazz festival after a three year break, the Tony Woods Project delivered a fine fettle of folky, free and funky sounds, perfect for a lazy Saturday afternoon. You get lots of even precise lines delivered in what you might called a folk type rhythm, but the harmony is always much deeper, albeit referencing classic modal folk sounds. The precision interplay on the tune heads between Tony Woods on sax and Mike Outram on guitar was frequently delightful.

'Prayer', the final track, was a warming highlight complete with ambient textures and some warm bowed vibes from Rob Millett. The track mutated from it's homely beginning into bluesy groove, enhanced by some fade-in echo feedback from Outram, before he dug in proper with some tasty mute picked bends.

The evening session opened with a tuneful set of tunes from Huw Jacob and his band. This is all about the songwriting and the lyrics, with some well crafted sequences and lush harmony vocals nodding to the classic pop of Squeeze and the Beatles. The sound was especially ear-catching when it opened up enough to let Jamie Safiruddin's sweet and fresh piano playing come through. Some great tunes here for sure.

I hadn't actually heard or seen much about the Lianne Carroll Trio before tonight if I'm honest, and I wasn't at all prepared for the firestorm of a performance we got. Suffice to say, they totally stormed it. The massive energy kick pushed out from the stage by Carroll and the band from the very first note was worth a good many strong coffees (if not something stronger). The jury is still out for me on whether some musicians have 'natural' talent, but when you see someone such as Carroll who can perform so well and so effortlessly, I do wonder. The material is what you might call mainstream, but it's delivered with such vigour and joy, you have to be something of a sour old goat to not raise a smile. A fantastic upbeat ending to a great opening Saturday night.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Space Is The Place - Manchester Jazz Festival Day One

Ralph Alessi with the Jim Hart Trio, Festival Pavilion, Albert Square, Manchester. Nat Birchall Quartet. Friday 23rd July 2010.

Marshall Allen & James Harrar’s Cinema Soloriens and the Cosmo-Drama, Band on the Wall. Friday 23rd July 2010.

So it was finally here, the launch of the fifteenth Manchester Jazz Festival. The proceedings started in a novel way with Supertramp sax player, John Helliwell officially launching the festival playing a melody of notes stuck to a stave by members of the audience. I think John may have taken a liberty or two with the notes, but it was a lot of fun.

Vibes player Jim Hart and trumpeter Ralph Alessi got us going proper with a healthy dose of some fairly classic sounding medium swing. There was a particularly nice touch when the players synched in with the town hall bell bringing in the hour. 'Morbid Curiosity' caught my ear with it's Steve Reich'ish 'Different Trains' quality, always a winner for me. Hart's vibe sound is quite delicious, and his attack and phrasing were well on it tonight.

It was then a quick dash over to the Band on the Wall for the last few tracks of Nat Birchill's set. This is very much the sound of Coltrane's long modal vamps (or at least the tunes I heard were). Nat and his band really know how to get that sound down perfectly, and it came across really well along with the pensive piano of Adam Fairhill, and the contemplative double bass of Gavin Barras. 'Many Blessings' was suitably longing, with gently rolling piano arpeggios and ecstatic saxophone flourishes. Bang on if you like this sort of thing.

We were straight over to 1967 Haight Ashbury for the free jazz cosmic psychedelia of the Cinema Soloriens, complete with bell bottom green satin flares worn by guitarist Kamil Kruta. This was fascinating stuff, at least for the first thirty minutes or so. Ex-Sun Ra star, Marshall Allen, when not playing alto sax, was playing some kind of electronic flute. The vocals from James Harrar really reminded me of the Can sound on 'Tago Mago', and I was really quite enjoying it.

At the risk of retorts from free jazz fans, I have to say I can't help thinking that the band had run out ideas after about half an hour, and then it all became a bit repetitive. Although it may be considered to conflict with the ideas of free jazz, it's hard not to think that a bit of listening to the other players and responding for the good of the overall sound would have improved things no end. One might say they were, but not in a way I could detect. One might say, why should they? In which case, yeah, OK I guess, if that's what you're in to. A bit more …, ironically, space in the sound would have helped keep the interest level up, or at least some more shifts of shade, colour and pace. Space is indeed, the place I think, and I would have loved more of it. The overall groove from drummer Ed Wilcox was great, but it didn't change much for the whole single piece set. I believe I may now have been banned from Saturn.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Manchester Jazz Festival Is Go

Yes it all starts today! Get yerselves down. It's gonna be mega.

... and I need a new reviewing pad ASAP. I'll be getting reviews up here as fast as I can.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Sketches From Spain

Interview with Mike Walker in Andalucia, Spain. 22nd June 2010

The new Manchester Jazz Festival website includes a fifteen minute interview with Mike Walker that I managed to get while I was on Mike's advanced Jazz Guitar Master Class Retreat in Andalucia, Spain recently. I thought I'd include it here as well.

Mike talks about how the Simcock Walker Swallow Nussbaum tour came about, and how he went about writing material for this group of musicians, as well as what it was like improvising with such legendary players as bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Adam Nussbaum. He also reflects on 'Ropes', his 2008 commission for the Manchester Jazz Festival, and the upcoming mjf date at the Royal Northern College of Music. There's also exciting news on some upcoming planned new CD releases.

Give the interview a listen here:

Mike Walker Interview 22nd June 2010 by manchesterjazz

Manchester Jazz Festival Website Now Live

Red hot off the Wordpress! - full details on the 15th festival, the biggest to date. Loads of extra goodies including an interview by me with Mike Walker. Go there now:

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Manchester Jazz Festival Announces The Full 2010 Line Up

As some readers of this blog will know, I'm involved with the annual Manchester Jazz Festival that's coming up very soon now. Our lovely team have just put out a press release, so I thought it'd be handy to include it here. The fest is gonna be a goodun:

Manchester Jazz Festival (mjf), celebrates its 15th anniversary with the biggest festival to date, Fri 23 - Sat 31 July 2010

Over 80 bands will play across 8 city centre venues, at all times of the day and night - indoors and out! mjf is all about trying something new - and this year it's easier than ever to discover a world of new music, unlike any other on the jazz festival circuit.

2010 includes musical firsts from Britain and abroad, including the mjf originals commission Surroundings, a new antiphonal suite for jazz orchestra composed by Manchester trumpeter Neil Yates. International debuts come from Spanish pianist Baldo Martinez and Franco-German duo Daniel Erdmann and Frances Le Bras. Other highlights include jazz 'supergroup' Simcock/Walker/Swallow/Nussbaum, featuring Salford-born guitarist Mike Walker, and Phil Bancroft's multi-media Home - Small as the World which features one musician's contribution beamed directly by wi-fi from his Manchester home.

As you’d expect, Band on the Wall, Manchester’s legendary live music venue, is one of mjf’s main venues, with performances from the Indo-Jazz fusions of ex-Mancunian clarinettist Arun Ghosh, to the city’s most revered DJ, Mr Scruff. Even ’80s icon Kid Creole makes a comeback! Also at the venue, the BBC’s flagship jazz radio programme Jazz on 3 will broadcast live from the festival on Monday 26 July.

A multitude of jazz vocalists, all with their own personal approach to jazz, feature in the line up: Terri Shaltiel has the blues, Rodina an Irish lilt, Monika Lidke her Polish folk songs, Alice Zawadzki her Jewish folk songs and An Jacobs her French chanson.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is music for the jazz aficionado too: mjf champions artists who are crossing the boundaries and pushing the music to new limits: The Golden Age of Steam features an unusual line up of bass clarinet, organ and drums, and their soundworld – nothing to do with trains! – evokes swirling soundscapes and contemporary classical music. Jim Hart studied an unusual instrument - the vibraphone - at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester; now he’s one of the UK’s leading exponents and he’s joined forces with Ralph Alessi, the innovative New York-based trumpeter, for his gig to launch the festival on 23 July.

A whole day is also devoted to the energetic and vital rhythms of Afro-Caribbean music. From 2.00pm on Sunday 25 July, take part in special percussion and dance workshops in the Festival Pavilion in Albert Square, and at 8.00pm catch the double bill featuring two of the north west’s foremost ensembles of this genre: Di├íspora, a young 11-piece band with dynamic orchestrations, and Mojito, with authentic Cuban vocalists and a lively percussion section. All you need to add is the rum and the cigar…

mjf introduces continues in the afternoons with 6 new young artists from Greater Manchester launching their careers at the Festival Pavilion in Albert Square. New to the festival this year is a series of afternoon tea events in the award winning French restaurant at the Grade II-listed Midland Hotel.

Steve Mead, mjf’s Artistic Director, says: “There’s an incredible amount of wonderful music in this year’s festival – and so much for free. Not only that, but such a wide mixture of sounds and styles, from twice BBC Jazz Award-winner and singer/songwriter Liane Carroll, bringing her relaxed pop and blues influences into the mix, to the most challenging of artists at the cutting-edge of jazz, like Stuart McCallum (Cinematic Orchestra) and the punky Trio VD. mjf guarantees you a memorable time, whatever your taste.”

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