Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Music for Life Big Band & Benoit Martiny Band - Manchester Jazz Festival 2013

Music for Life Big Band featuring Mike Walker, Festival Pavilion Teepee. Sunday 28th July 2013

The expansive sounds of the Music for Life Big Band opened proceedings on Sunday, ably directed by Jo McCallum and Alastair McWilliam. Twelve contemporary composers including Mike Gibbs, Stan Sulzmann, Gwilym Simcock and Dennis Rollins were drafted in to write for this 25-piece ensemble of young musicians from Cheshire. As if this wasn’t enough, local guitar hero Mike Walker was enlisted for the live gigs. This one turned out to be a real kicker of a gig, going down a storm with the full teepee audience. Rightly so I say, as it was a fantastic set with great compositions and arrangements played really well by the Big Band, with excellent improvising added for good measure. The deep groove set opener written by ex-local sax player Andy Schofield gave Walker one of many opportunities to show that he knows how to dig in and rock out, much to the vocal appreciation of the teepee crowd.

Part of the aim of this project was to give lesser-experienced composer-arrangers an opportunity to try out their pieces with a big band. One such track was the tuneful latin piece, ‘Binson’s Lilt’ written by sax player Sam Rapley. Some fine close harmony opening chords set the scene for a gripping solo from ace guitarist Charles McDonald. Dennis Rollins’ ‘Full Fat Funk’ was duly deep and fulsome giving McDonald a chance to raise the stakes further with a ballsy overdriven solo.

A thoughtful take on Richard Iles’ ‘Sunday Soul’ supplied some mood variation. As with the Rollins track, the track echoed its title perfectly, inspiring some gorgeous soulful playing from Brad Everett on alto sax. The James Brown style ‘No Matter What’ from Mike Gibbs was the perfect funky set closer, some strident trombone playing sending us off with big smiles on our faces. Top stuff. I hope Jo McCallum gets a chance to put this outfit together again.

Benoit Martiny Band, Festival Pavilion Teepee. Sunday 28th July 2013
Having already checked out the Benoit Martiny Band in advance as part of mine and Jane’s jazz festival preview radio show, I was intrigued to see how they would go down, reason being that they’re ‘full-on’ to say the least. I’m happy to report they went down phenomenally well. It was in your face stuff for sure, but at the same time it was so strong, powerful, well rehearsed and well written that it grabbed the audience right from the off. It was hard not to be taken with the sheer energy and enthusiasm of it all.

The set started with some mystical almost tribal drumming from Martiny on drums, soon making way for generous amounts of fuzz bass from Sandor Kem and big power chords from guitarist Frank Jonas. The first few tracks reminded me of early era King Crimson and Soft Machine with a little Black Sabbath thrown in for good measure. ‘Carousel’ from their new album was more of a groover, topped off with a really strong duo sax hookline played crisply by Joao Driessen on tenor and Jasper Van Damme on alto. Both horns players were real ear-grabbing improvisers too, assisted by the rock solid grounding of the fantastically tight combination of Martiny and Kem. The sense of expert dynamic variation and control was handled especially well on this track.

The fast swing of ‘Don’t Leave a Message’ showed the band weren’t only about heavy jazz rock, Kem switching from electric to acoustic double bass to woodify the sound. ‘My Favourite Painkiller’ came complete with some fab echo scratchy guitar atmospherics and a free jazz section leading to a punctuated deep blues riff. Van Damme made good use of the latter to burn us up with some fiery alto playing. Manchester's Town Hall bells sounded over the decaying chords of final track ‘Funeral’ to complete this brilliant set perfectly.

1 comment:

JT said...

Benoit Martiny and his bandmates are rock stars! They put in the time and effort to perfect their sound and they have the talent and creativity to soar