FESTIVAL REPORTS: 2016 Manchester Jazz Festival (Skutch Manos, Emilia Mårtensson / Barry Green, Entropi, Empirical)

Clockwise, from top left:
Arlen Connolly (Skutch Manos); Emilia Mårtensson with Barry Green;
Empirical; Dee Byrne and Andre Canniere (Entropi).
Photographs © Adrian Pallant.

Throughout this past week, Manchester Jazz Festival has continued to present a diverse programme of live jazz across its city-centre venues, celebrating its ongoing, 21-year success. Adrian Pallant highlights another four performances:


Skutch Manos (Tuesday 26 July, Hobgoblin Pavilion)

Totally riveting from the outset, this high-energy trio of Arlen Connolly (guitars), Holly Prest (beatbox, percussion) and Chris Cliff (double bass) was one of the surprise packages of the festival. Having played together as a duo on their Manchester home turf and at various festivals, Connolly and Prest introduced double bass to create the most entertaining, rhythmically exacting brew of flamenco, world music, thrash rock and jazz.

Displaying incredible fervour and apparent enjoyment in their playing, they rattled through delights such as Black Coffee and Wakey Wakey Boys and Girls (from debut release Mimosa) as well as Burning Hands of the Copper Sunflower, a heady mix of Led Zep energy and Spanish guitar rhythm. One of those fleeting moments which underlines the importance of live music, Skutch Manos’ set featured the extraordinary dexterity of Prest’s beatbox and other percussion. Had any reserves of energy been conserved by the players, the assembled afternoon audience would likely have been more than happy for this joyful hour to have been extended.

Holly Prest of Skutch Manos
Photo credit and © Adrian Pallant


Emilia Mårtensson & Barry Green (Wednesday 27 July, St Ann’s Church)

The distinctive Anglo-Swedish vocals of Emilia Mårtensson have, over the last few years, brought so much to the world of contemporary jazz, featuring on albums by the Kairos 4tet, as well as in last year’s 'mjf originals' commission, Iain Ballamy’s An Ape’s Progress. She also collaborates with trumpeter and composer Rory Simmons on his Embla and Monocled Man projects, and also has a new trio venture, Elda.

At this festival appearance, accompanied by longtime pianist and friend Barry Green, the singer’s exquisite, clear annunciations filled the beautiful, echoic spaces of St Ann’s Church, Manchester, delivering impeccable interpretations from her original duo album And So It Goes and more recent release Ana. Green’s pianistic intimacy was perfectly attuned to Mårtensson’s bewitching, sensitive delivery, shaping Jamies Doe’s lilting Harvest Moon and James Taylor’s easy-going Something in the Way She Moves with consummate poise; and in Ana (reflecting a homely conversation between Emilia and her grandmother) the vocalist expressed so meaningfully the lines, ‘Soft, at night, her hand on mine, she says, “Close your eyes before you open up your mind”.’ A magical, early afternoon performance of delicate beauty.

Barry Green and Emilia Mårtensson
Photo credit and © Adrian Pallant


Entropi (Wednesday 27 July, Central Library Performance Space)

Led by saxophonist Dee Byrne, London-based quintet Entropi brought their dynamic, often space-age brand of ‘order and chaos’ to the festival, performing blistering originals which included numbers from their superb debut album New Era. Fronted by Byrne on alto and Andre Canniere on trumpet, their powerful, shared riffs and freer jazz episodes were supported by the strong, propulsive waves of double bassist Olie Brice and drummer Matt Fisher.

Entropi clearly possess a great connectional thread, Fisher’s sparky percussion and Rebecca Nash’s solid, electric piano block chords and hyperspatial shimmers integral to the overall soundworld. In the Cold Light of Day featured haunting, wavering long notes and shrill sputterings from Canniere, alongside Byrne’s own inventive, hard-blown improvisations shooting off in all directions; and contrasting ‘space jazz’ episodes, such as Space Module, included flighty electric piano dream sequences and guttural, percussive scrapings, climbing rhythmically and melodically higher and higher. An exciting band which fuses classic hard-bop and free jazz with an imaginative, contemporary outlook.

Dee Byrne.
Photo credit and © Adrian Pallant


Empirical (Thursday 28 July, Hobgoblin Pavilion)

Suave, sharp-suited Empirical unleashed their deliciously spiky, energetic quartet creativity in the festival’s Hobgoblin Pavilion on Thursday evening, immediately encouraging their audience to give themselves a round of applause: “You are supporting live jazz.” And the reward? Across two 50-minute sets, Nathaniel Facey (alto sax), Lewis Wright (vibraphone), Tom Farmer (double bass) and Shaney Forbes (drums) presented a dazzling show, revealing the treasures of their current album, Connection, in a powerful display of ‘happening jazz’.

Wright’s leaping vibes improvisations and lush, sustained harmonies in Stay the Course co-ordinated with slick alto (Facey having already immersed himself, three hours earlier, in an impassioned, almost hallucinatory Coltrane Love Supreme performance with Alex Douglas’ quartet!); and Farmer’s Card Clash snapped from jarring dissonance into elegant swing. It was fascinating to experience the sustained, oscillating vibes tranquillity of Lethe interlaced with the city’s surrounding hum of traffic and voices, its sultry mid-evening blues encouraging dry, modal alto extemporisations. And in a compelling second set, including the most entrancingly perfect live version of mystical Mind Over Mayhem and Facey’s firecracking swinger The Two-Edged Sword, Empirical lit up Manchester with incandescent flair.

Nathaniel Facey.
Photo credit and © Adrian Pallant 

Adrian Pallant is a proofreader, jazz writer and musician who also reviews at his own site ap-reviews.com

Manchester Jazz Festival concludes this weekend, Saturday 30th and Sunday 31st July. Full programme at manchesterjazz.com.

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