Monday, August 01, 2011

Manchester Jazz Festival 2011

So another Manchester Jazz Festival is over, as quick as a flash it seemed this year. I wasn’t able to make it to as many events as in previous years, but I still got a good dose of what was another great year.

My first outing was to the Posé-Roper-Salvador Trio and Pascal Schumacher Quartet double bill in the festival pavilion on the Saturday night. The Posé-Roper-Salvador Trio set the festival tone admirably with their joyful Spanish tinged sound. My favourite track consisted of some tasty riffing over an infectious Weather Report groove. The Pascal Schumacher Quartet had more of a through-composed complex arrangement style, somewhat like a Steve Reich biased EST, with time signature trickery in evidence aplenty. A highlight for me was the contemplative ‘Sept Fontaine’, complete with some lovely mute plucked piano harmonics of a kind I’ve not heard before.

On Tuesday evening it was over to the Band on the Wall for this years ‘MJF Originals’ commission, Adam Fairhall’s ‘Imaginary Delta’. Certainly an oddity this one, the Imaginary Delta being a fragmented deconstructive take on early jazz and blues. Familiar vintage sounds would arise, only then to suddenly side step and twist, quirky bar length disjoints appearing almost offhand in all sorts of places. A John Cage style prepared piano, and an overlay of electronic whooshes added to the disorientating surrealism.

Adam Fairhall

Wednesday night at the Royal Northern College of Music was the setting for another major festival event, the launch of Stuart McCallum’s new record, ‘Distilled’. Stuart has made a specialty of producing hypnotic layers of echo ambient arpeggio sound washes, that he’s now crafted to a fine art. Tonight’s dreamy set of star gazing tracks filled the large space of the RNCM hall perfectly. Dave Walsh on drums caught my ear, with some fine fast groove work. The music was accompanied by stills and videos from Linder, a local visual artist. The stills worked OK, but I found the videos seemed ill matched to the sound, and in all honesty, quite an annoying distraction to an otherwise top evening.

My favourite gig of the festival award has to go to the short set from the brilliant Dave Stapleton Quintet, as part of the Edition Records double bill at the Band on the Wall. Pretty much all of Stapleton’s compositions really did it for me, and were backed by some strong no nonsense playing from the band. It was “like a double espresso, a Guinness, and a double vodka all in one” according to Supertramp sax player, John Helliwell, and who am I to disagree. Stapleton’s set was followed by a stormer from the tour-de-force intense virtuosity of the Marius Neset Quartet. I’m not sure the compositions work for me, but it was impossible not to be affected the grab-you-by-the-neck force and energy of the playing. The set went down a storm with the crowd, a blown away Mr Helliwell describing Neset as “the Jimi Hendrix of the saxophone”.

On Friday it was back to the pavilion for Richard Iles’ Miniature Brass Emporium featuring Iain Ballamy. I’ve got a lot of time for Richard’s writing, and it was great to hear some new compositions as part of a suite based on the seasons of the year. I like the way Iles combines an ear for a great melody and harmony, but is also up for a simple funky blues groover where it's needed. No doubt due to rehearse scheduling headaches with a band of this size, the playing could have been a little sharper, and it lacked a little energy in the earlier part of the set. Guitarist Mike Walker took the situation in hand towards the end, with some forceful high paced playing that really kicked the band into gear. A slightly bemused looking Iain Ballamy certainly seemed to dig it.

And so it was to the final Saturday in the Pavilion for a reunion of a band who played the very first MJF, the John Ellis Big Band. I’ve heard some tracks from a recording of that set from way back, and was looking forward to a good one. There was some great stuff here, John being a good tunesmith along with some of the other band members who contributed to the set. I personally would have a liked a few more of the soul funk tracks I know John can do so well, the one track they did in this vein being the best of the bunch for me, with some great horn riffs over a tasty swing vibe. A few more solos here and there would’ve been a nice added treat too. Guitarist Mike Outram really did the business on that front with a great bluesy solo on one of the tracks. A fine festival closing night performance. Onwards to next year.

Full details on all the gigs mentioned are available on the Manchester Jazz Festival website.