It was tricky getting to as many festival gigs as possible, writing these blog reviews and managing to do my day job as well, so inevitably I didn't quite manage to review all the acts I'd like to have done while the festival was on. I thought rather than pass them by, I'd get a few sentences down.
Avalon Trio, St Ann's Church, Friday 20th July 2012.
I really enjoyed this trio paying homage to some early 20th Century English composers, in particular Delius and Finzi. It was a real ear opener to hear the minor chord repeating arpeggio introduction to their first piece, Delius' 'Summer Night on the Water' that could have graced any John Coltrane modal tune. Pianist Pete Churchill's song introductions were really informative too, making this gig as much a music lesson. He mentioned that the great Bill Evans was influenced by Delius, this making a lot of sense on hearing the gorgeous harmonies. Some indian flute from Tony Woods, and tabla percussion from Rob Millett were used to great effect, introducing additional colours and textures, especially on another Delius piece, 'Brigg Fair'.
Pete Moser: Sound Games. MJF Originals. Festival Pavilion, Friday 20th July 2012.
This was a curious one for sure, but great fun. Moser introduced the concert as the Manchester Decathlon, each of the pieces being one of the races, and with all band members coming on wearing some sort of sports kit and a number on their back. The material was composed to reflect the character of each race, along with accompanying images and video. The compositions embraced a wide range of sounds from modal sequences, Africa township sounds, 'Cucumber Slumber'esque Weather Report vibes, Steve Reich rhythms, to funk grooves and beyond. Certainly an oddity, but the band connected well with the audience, and a happy time was had.
Spoonful, Matt and Phreds, Friday 20th July 2012
Keys player John Ellis was treated to the use of a genuine piece of Hammond organ furniture hired in for this stomp through classic Blue Note/Lou Donaldson tunes at a busy Matt and Phreds. Great stuff it was too, being a masterclass on how to do boppy funky blues from tutors Ellis, Neil Yates on trumpet/flugel, Andy Ross on sax and Eryl Roberts on drums. Ellis and Ross tended to stay within the genre sounds for the most part, but I really liked the way Yates' managed go a little further, riding the edge of the harmony with some really spicy notes, but without resorting to brutal outside playing, which can so easily be to the detriment of the track and the group vibe. A rocking gig.
Prestwich Deluxe, Festival Pavilion, Saturday 21st July 2012
Prestwich Deluxe comprised trumpet maestro Richard Iles and his band of excellent musicians playing classic straight ahead stuff to a pleasingly packed festival tent on Saturday afternoon. It was great to see such a big audience for a jazz gig, something Richard noted too. The written horn parts from Richard and Tim France on sax were all played with masterful precision, the solos from both also reaching a consistently high watermark. Most of the tunes were standards from the likes of Charles Mingus, Horace Silver and Eddie Harris, with Jamie Sheriff on piano, Pete Turner on double bass and Eryl Roberts on drums all honouring the spirit of the pieces admirably.
Eventually Iles enlightened us as to the meaning of their evocative band name, it being a mythical jazz club set in the small country village of Prestwich, north Manchester, as seen through the imagination of the players. The Iles penned 'Prestwich Deluxe' track was also one of the best, displaying a compositional subtlety that's his very own. No great surprises here you might say, but it was classic stuff delivered with genuine panache.
Hackney Colliery Band, Festival Pavilion, Saturday 21st July 2012
The Hackney Colliery Band have quite a unique take for a brass band, proffering an eclectic repertoire including funk, hip-hop and rock, Balkan brass, ska and just a little contemporary jazz. They were the perfect choice for the festival closer, being a self confessed 'feet friendly band' who sure enough, got the audience dancing within a short space of time. It's hard not to like this kind of thing, even if it was a little scrappy at the edges, but this seemed to suit their style and ethic. The band closed the set by continuing to play while exiting the stage and then walking through the audience up to the bar, the crowd then following Pied Piper style. A good time was had by all.
So that's about it for this year's Manchester Jazz Festival gig reviews. I had a fanatastic time as always. Hats off to Steve, Mick, Sunny, Rachel on the MJF team, the volunteers and everyone else involved in putting on this year's event. Roll on next year!