FESTIVAL REPORT: 2017 Manchester Jazz Festival – 30th July

Manchester Jazz Festival's main venue – the 1920s spiegeltent

2017 Manchester Jazz Festival – Sunday 30th July
(Report and photographs by Adrian Pallant)

More performances, from the second day of Manchester Jazz Festival (mjf).


Camilla George Quartet

At the beginning of this year, Camilla George and her quartet released debut album Isang [review] – a beautifully swinging, straight-ahead fusion of African and Western grooves. Having already worked with Tomorrow’s Warriors, the Nu Civilisation Orchestra and Jazz Jamaica, the Nigerian-born saxophonist imbues her original music with all the sunshiny positivity of her homeland – and her set in Manchester, with pianist Joe Armon-Jones, double bassist Jay Darwish and drummer Sam Jones, reflected something of that studio recording’s simple elegance.

But in a live setting, this music sprang to greater heights, effervescing with spontaneity and often ferocious solo improvisation, especially from George herself and pianist Armon-Jones. Isang itself opened the show, leading into a bustling new number (from almost-completed writing for a second album) based on a story from a book of old folk stories her Nigerian grandmother would read to her as a child. Mami Water – a dark tale about an African spirit – found the saxophonist confidently and fluently drawing on many ideas amongst the overall band verve; Dreams of Eket showcased George’s Stan Getz-like feel for ballads with such mellow phrasing; and Mami Water Returns (“a party at the bottom of the sea”) pushed hard as a closing, celebratory groove.

With the second album on the horizon, Camilla George proved, through her mjf performance, that she has much to say as a composer, saxophonist and bandleader.

Camilla George (alto sax)

The Darkening Blue

Andre Canniere’s The Darkening Blue – an unofficial sextet title, following the release last year of the album of the same name – brought some of the London-based trumpeter/composer’s exciting and haunting interpretations of poetry by Rilke and Bukowski to the Salon Perdu stage. With a line-up of saxophonist Tori Freestone, vocalist Brigitte Beraha, pianist Ivo Neame, bassist Michael Janisch and drummer Andrew Bain, they delivered numbers such as yearning Autumn Day, shaped so expressively by Beraha’s controlled lines; and propulsive Going Blind found Freestone tapping into her characteristic wellspring of modal improvisation (there surely isn’t another tenorist on the current scene who can carry such fluidity, and prompt a very real emotion, through an extended solo). The upfront pairing of trumpet and tenor also offered strong unison themes, particularly in Area of Pause, across a driving rhythm.

Canniere’s ability to craft new contemporary jazz around poetry – either through accessible vocal melodies or impassioned free instrumental sections – has taken his music in an important new direction, coloured by Ivo Neame’s chromatic piano invention and the fervent duo of Janisch and Bain. Bluebird and jagged Hug the Dark were also amongst the album numbers which made appearances, each met by approving audience responses afterwards – one of those occasions where a real sense of artistic discovery was tangible. And were it not for the relentless chime of the town hall clock outside, Canniere and his excellent band may have continued long into the next hour.

Andre Canniere (trumpet), Tori Freestone (tenor sax)

Shri Sriram – Just a Vibration

The visual spectacle of sitar player, drummer and electric bassist surrounded by brass band stands and pennants might well have been sufficient to tempt onlookers to stay – and the opening, widescreen grandeur of Shri Sriram’s music would surely have rooted them to the spot. Melding Indian classical music from the sitar of Jasdeep Singh Degun and the evocative Yorkshire brass vibrato of the Hammonds Saltaire Band with Sriram’s thunderous bass and Asaf Sirkis’s skilled drumming might, on the face of it, have been an unlikely concept. But Sunday’s evening slot presented the bassist/producer’s 2015 album Just a Vibration to enthusiastic festival-goers.

The unusual body shape of Sriram’s self-made electric bass allows him to explore arco sounds alongside traditional methods, his looped effects filling the air with sweet fragrances in-between vast soundscapes. The subtle vibrato of Saltaire’s brass, under the direction of Morgan Griffiths, created intense, visceral drama (experienced, for us all, in genuine inner physicality) through deeply sustained resonance, brassy stabs and the kind of textural panoramas that seem unique to a traditional British brass band sound – and their focus was spot-on.

Sriram’s programmatic balance was excellent, the extraordinary delicacy of Degun’s sitar so sweetly executed before it mesmerically intensified; in-demand drummer and percussionist Sirkis (the anchor of so many jazz and jazz-rock productions these days) was given free rein to underpin with heavy energy; and Sriram’s combination of adept konnakol and limitless fretboard exploration with effects was fascinating to witness. An unexpected delight for an attentive, rapt audience – and perhaps the biggest movie score of all time!

Shri Sriram (electric bass)

Jasdeep Singh Degun (sitar)


Manchester Jazz Festival continues, daily, until Sunday 6th August. Full programme at manchesterjazz.com

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

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