2016 Manchester Jazz Festival – Saturday 23 July
(Report and photographs by Adrian Pallant)
Proudly living up to its recent, prestigious Europe Jazz Network Award for Adventurous Programming (see news story), Manchester Jazz Festival put on a dazzling display for the first Saturday of its 2016 festival. Now in its 21st year and celebrating the eclecticism of jazz across nine city-centre venues – with a strapline invitation to ‘Re-think Jazz’ – the relaxed ambience of the main festival hub attracted happy weekend crowds to the pavilion and outdoor spaces to soak up the sun and discover new music. Amidst the carnival buzz of street bands such as the Young Pilgrims, the first full day’s schedule included diverse sets from bands from the UK, Spain and France:
|Left to right: Brigitte Beraha, Tori Freestone, Dave Whitford of Solstice|
Bringing together established East London-based musicians Tori Freestone (saxes, flute), Brigitte Beraha (vocals), Jez Franks (guitar), John Turville (piano), Dave Whitford (bass) (for Dave Manington) and George Hart (drums), new ensemble Solstice previewed their debut album, Alimentation, which releases later this year. Featuring the close pairing of Beraha’s precise, often wordless vocals and Freestone’s endlessly tumbling tenor and soprano lines, this sextet’s experience shone through. New arrangements of Beraha’s elegant, complex Unspoken (from her Babelfish release Chasing Rainbows) and Freestone’s snappy The Universal 4 (from album In the Chop House) became illuminated by this colourful line-up.
Jez Franks’ rapid-fire guitar improvisations, especially in his own piece Tilt, were invigorating; Freestone’s Avocado Deficit (which she explained was written after discovering that a friend hadn’t eaten the fruit for twenty years) climbed endlessly and mysteriously, as if emulating an Escher illustration; and the band’s interpretation of Björk’s The Anchor Song beautifully pictorialised the writer’s themes of diving to the bottom of the ocean through sequences of crisp, babbling rhythm and pearlescent lustre. As good friends, Solstice expressed their enthusiasm for this new project – and great to see it so eloquently introduced to this festival audience. (Podcast interview with John Turville about Solstice)
|Left: Julia de Castro. Right: Miguel Rodrigañez|
Billed as ‘tales of passion, sensuality and excess from Madrid’, singer/actress Julia de Castro flamboyantly strutted onto the pavilion stage to join her slick piano trio, presenting an hour of provocative, risqué songs which captured the spirit of women from Spain’s early 20th Century theatre scene. Overflowing with uncompromising attitude, spicy theatrics and sexual innuendo, the vocalist connected with an audience who hung on every sung or spoken word (with her teasing that learning Spanish would unlock the hidden secrets).
Amidst the cheeky, burlesque humour – shedding her heavy matador tunic in the heat of the pavilion, as well as revealing that, had it not been the middle of the afternoon, the skirt would normally have been discarded, too! – de Castro and her pianist Jorge Vera, double bassist Miguel Rodrigañez and drummer Gonzalo Maestre captivated with impassioned, Hispanic musicality. Strong vocals (an impressively long, held note at one stage), dizzying piano improv and rhythmic zest combined to prompt a standing ovation at the close, with smiles all round (especially from those with a smattering of Spanish).
|Left: Tamar Osborn. Right: Magnus Mehta|
Led by saxophonist and flautist Tamar Osborn, seven-piece Collocutor carefully craft original modal music drawn from many genres, including jazz, afrobeat, minimalism and Indian classical. With the horn line-up completed by saxophonist Mike Lesirge and trumpeter Simon Finch, African-style rhythms are the backbone of this mesmeric septet, created by percussionists Magnus Mehta and Maurizio Ravalico, electric guitarist Marco Piccioni and double bassist Suman Joshi.
Offering music from debut album Instead, and previewing tracks from forthcoming album follow-up The Search, Collocutor’s multi-faceted, shifting soundscapes were frequently described as journeys “from darkness to a place of hope”, and their varied world-music beats were also visually attractive (touchingly, a mother was led to the front of the audience by her toddler son to investigate the spectacle – a sign of this festival’s joyous sense of family and inclusivity). Tight horn riffs, Mahavishnu-like guitar and earthy, tectonic experimentalism – which often reached effective, hypnotic saturation – featured in numbers such as Here to There to Everywhere (from the new album) and modal raga Archaic Morning. A vibe which convincingly confirmed the creative blurring of contemporary jazz’s boundaries – and well received.
|Left: Laurent Bardainne. Right: Thomas de Pourquery|
Artistic Director Steve Mead could barely contain his excitement, during his on-stage introduction, in bringing this extraordinary French sextet to Manchester’s RNCM Theatre for their sole UK performance. Led by ‘ringmaster’, saxophonist and vocalist Thomas de Pourquery, their raw, unpredictable energy pays homage to experimental 20th Century American jazz musician Sun Ra whose avant garde compositions and electronic keyboard playing became (and continue to be) so influential on the experimental jazz scene. Totally unpredictable throughout, de Pourquery and his team (saxophones, trumpet, piano/keyboards, electric bass, drums, vocals) whipped up a maelstrom of punky, gritty-bassline grooves and hard-blown melodics, driven along by astonishingly demonstrative, off-his-stool drummer/percussionist Edward Perraud.
Arnaud Roulin’s retro pitch-bent synth lines in The Perfect Man were juxtaposed with We Travel the Spaceways, an inventive sequence of babbling, synthy washes and solid horn riffs (with Pourquery vocalising in trio with sax and trumpet) which then kicked into relentless, heavy jazz/rock redolent of King Crimson. The whole evening was peppered with humour as little snatches of the theme from Indian Jones surfaced and the leader taunted his audience, in good humour, about the UK’s European exit before proclaiming "Manchester, we love you!" Thunderously-good live entertainment, its moments of serenity (especially Roulin’s lofty, resonant synth/electronics soloing in relative darkness, before the encore) were just as memorable. Unsurprisingly, an appreciative audience rose to its feet to applaud this six-piece French whirlwind.
Adrian Pallant is a proofreader, jazz writer and musician who also reviews at his own site ap-reviews.com
Manchester Jazz Festival continues, daily, until Sunday 31 July. Full programme at manchesterjazz.com.