FEATURE: Some highlights of the Manchester Jazz Scene (Johnny Hunter Quartet at the Vortex on 31st October)

Johnny Hunter

Manchester-based drummer Johnny Hunter will be with his quartet at the Vortex on 31 October. It was a good opportunity for Liam Izod to ask him to pick out some of his favourite lesser-known acts from the Manchester jazz scene. Liam writes:

It was in Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall forty years ago that the U.K first learnt that attitude, and not aptitude could propel great music and change society. A decade or so later the music of ‘Madchester’ taught the country the meaning of joy and ecstasy. And around a decade after that, two Manchester brothers’ decision to rock up the fab four’s formula, took Brit-Pop global.

The great northern city’s musical heritage is so rich, it seems obvious that Manchester’s engagement with jazz would be fruitful. Yet a London-centric viewpoint still registers surprise that in recent years, arguably the UK jazz’s most inventive and successful acts have come from Manchester: GoGo Penguin infused E.S.T’s Scandinavian cool with northern grit, Beats & Pieces Big Band offer a sardonic take on Loose Tubes’ anarchic big band humour. Trumpeter Matthew Halsall guides the scene like a godfather, with his Gondwana label continually bringing through exciting new acts, the latest hit being melodious minimalist trio (from Norwich) Mammal Hands.

As with any scene, there is a hive of activity beyond the headline makers. Drummer Johnny Hunter is close to the pulse. Signed to the Efpi label that house Beats & Pieces, his quartet released their debut album of 21st century hard-bop, While We Still Can, last year.

He has picked out seven lesser known Manchester jazz acts, who as well as making the case that UK jazz’s centre of gravity might lie further north, highlight the importance of collaboration between scenes.

“There is so much great music happening up here,” says Johnny Hunter. “This list could easily be twice as long if I had space to include Nat Birchall, Fragments, Misha Gray’s Prehistoric Jazz Quintet, Kelly Jayne Jones, Henge, Adam Fairhall... I could go on!”

“Manchester has produced some of the more popular UK jazz acts, which is great. But there’s also a really strong improvised and experimental scene here that I want to highlight. This isn’t North vs South, Oasis vs Blur stuff either, I think collaborations between scenes are really important and have produced fantastic music.”


Mark Hanslip, Otto Willberg and Andrew Cheetham are great players. They follow their improvisatory instincts from art music explorations to hard bop maelstroms. (AUDIO)

This group brings together the London and Manchester improvising scenes. London-based experimental saxophonist Colin Webster adventures with HTrio’s rhythm section, augmented by improv stalwart Dave Birchall. (AUDIO)

Ripsaw Catfish
Another Manchester-London collaboration with guitarist Anton Hunter and baritone saxophonist Cath Roberts improvising in and out of composed passages. https://rawtonkrecords.bandcamp.com/album/for-the-benefit-of-the-tape.  

Paul Baxter
A prolific composer, whose material is sadly a rarity online. Baxter writes fantastically inventive pieces for both larger ensembles like Mahakasyapa and the Potter Ensemble (making full use of these groups’ string sections), and smaller more conventional jazz combos.  You can check out his piano trio – eyeshutight – (VIDEO)

Sam Andreae
Sam now lives in Berlin, and hasn’t lived in Manchester for quite a few years, but he still counts! Silence Blossoms, Trio Riot…every project he is involved with is great. Either he’s very lucky or very talented…(VIDEO)

Paddy Steer
Paddy has been doing really interesting and varied projects around Manchester for years. He’s fused electro chip tunes with jazz sensibilities and led a tribute to Sun Ra called The Part Time Heliocentric Cosmo Drama After School Club.(VIDEO)

Manchester Jazz Collective
This is a really exciting group to be a part of. Led by Kyran Matthews, this 10-piece group meets every month to workshop and perform original music written by various composers, and there are now over 50 tunes in the pad.  It’s fantastic to have the opportunity to write for large ensemble and have it performed; it’s very rare to be able to get ten great musicians in the same room, let alone every month! (AUDIO)

Johnny Hunter Quartet plays the Vortex on the 31st October. TICKETS

Categories: miscellaneous

Leave a Reply