FESTIVAL REPORT: 2017 Manchester Jazz Festival – 3rd August

Manchester Jazz Festival’s Salon Perdu, presided over by the Town Hall clock

2017 Manchester Jazz Festival – Thursday 3rd August
(Report and photographs by Adrian Pallant)

More performances, including the premiére of ‘Cottonopolis’, from Manchester Jazz Festival (mjf).

Alexander Bone and friends

Alto saxophonist Alexander Bone – with his Chetham’s mentors, pianist Les Chisnall and double bassist Steve Berry – returned from London to Manchester to play a free-entry, late-morning set in the Bridgewater Hall foyer. mjf’s summer warmth has, for the last few years, contradicted the city’s usual notoriety for rain – but this day’s early downpours didn’t deter a well-attended, appreciative audience from arriving to enjoy the trio’s interpretations of Nat King Cole’s Smile (Though Your Heart is Breaking) and Ralph Towner’s Glide. The latter felt especially balmy, with knowing looks between Bone and Berry towards the close suggesting Chisnall might have wished his typically focused improvisations to continue.

Following his award of inaugural BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year, in 2014, Bone’s stylistic approach has flourished (especially through his energetic, ‘feel good’ Jam Experiment quintet); and in slow ballads, his reverential, elongated extemporisations and gentle vibrato can bear a resemblance to Jan Garbarek. Original compositions revealed his compositional maturity – Oldgate, written the night before a trio gig in a London church, was balanced and lively; and the subtle shapes and lyrical alto phrasing of I Wish I Could Pause Time also featured an attractive, grounded bass solo from Berry, augmented by Chisnall’s hymn-like serenity at the piano. Herbie Hancock’s Tell Me a Bedtime Story was breezily and delicately swung as silver-lined storm clouds billowed away from Manchester’s busy, red-bricked and glazed skyline, whilst Rodgers and Hart’s I Didn’t Know What Time it Was (which Berry based on a Brad Mehldau arrangement) wrapped up these delightful, acoustic 60 minutes far too soon.

Alexander Bone

Lauren Kinsella and Kit Downes

An oasis within the city’s bustling commercial and retail centre, St Ann’s Church continues to extend an enthusiastic welcome to the festival’s different viewpoint of chamber of jazz, featuring music whose spacial detail and delicacy is enhanced by the high-ceilinged serenity this place of worship provides. Taking full advantage of their environment, pianist Kit Downes and vocalist Lauren Kinsella presented a new project – based on the work of Paul Motian, with words by Kinsella – to a lunchtime audience; and proceeding with little announcement, a quote from the influential US drummer was offered: “Let things happen when they happen. Don’t push. Don’t force, Don’t jump in ahead. Relax – take your time. Don’t do anything. Let anything do all”.

Opening with Abacus, Kinsella’s unmistakable, Irish storytelling eddied around Downes’ rippling figures; and in One Time Out, mysterious, Mussorgsky-like piano depths introduced spoken prose before venturing into lush, Gershwinesque octaves and chords. Characteristically tremulant, childlike phonics were shaped into the jazz swing of Once Around the Park, followed by Lullaby’s more accessible, comforting strains as an emotional, vocal delivery became supported by Downes’ rising, Debussyian chromatics. Folk Song for Rosie’s wistful 6/8 dance developed through whispers into big-band swing, Lauren Kinsella’s ‘voice as instrument’ communing closely with Kit Downes’ vibrant, ostinato support. Similarly, in Satie-suggested Tangram, Kinsella explored various vocal effects, at one point creating a vibrato by physically shaking her windpipe; and the slumberous lilt of Sod House crescendoed with soaring voice and jazz-inflected vigour.

Already performed at Ealing Jazz Festival and the Vortex, such compelling, original artistry based on Motian’s jazz output is sure to capture imaginations.

Kit Downes and Lauren Kinsella

One Million Faces Inwardness

The first UK performance by One Million Faces Inwardness – a totally improvisational concept devised by French drummer/percussionist Davy Sur, with Polish guitarist Maciek Pysz and French soprano saxophonist/keyboardist David Amar – brought extended, image-laden landscapes to the festival’s Salon Perdu. Three unscripted, immersive pieces, across a full hour, were preceded by a meditative pause as these experienced musicians combined to prepare their musical pathway.

The first scene pictorialized the morning’s suggested theme of ‘rain’, creating anticipatory washes and echoes aided by electronic pedals and effects as well as the percussive action of saxophone keys. Summoned by Sur’s bells, udu and sharp drum-kit highlights, the trio evoked the onset of a storm, building through Pysz’s distorted, John McLaughlin-style electric guitar raga; and David Amar’s filtered-octave soprano initiated a sequence of complex, European dance rhythms. Inviting suggested from the audience, similarly-themed ‘Water’ nevertheless brought a new range of colours, with Amar’s hand-held kalimba decorating Pysz’s acoustic guitar (his pedal, at one stage, initiating an underpinning electric bass part); and as water droplet imagery somehow melded with the outside world’s contributions (the town hall clock’s regular chimes and even Doppler-effect police sirens), this impressionistic mountain stream flowed with heightened, drum-thrashing fervour and repetitive, screeching sax. A final, more random topic – ‘polar bear’ – was cleverly portrayed through drones, konnakol and icy soprano effects.

This trio’s improvisations evolve both organically and patiently, their emotional reach potentially quite powerful (and in this salon performance, visibly affecting audience members). In contrast to these musicians’ other individual projects, there’s a sense, here, that they offer the opportunity for reflection, the recollection of memories or simply the chance to prompt personal, inward creativity – that’s a valuable gift.

Maciek Pysz

Even Sanne

Originally devised as a duo around five years ago by singer-songwriter Sanne Huijbregts and guitarist Eran Har Even, Amsterdam-based quartet Even Sanne was one of the festival’s beautiful, surprise packages – and a magical, fairytale-like experience to watch unfold. Along with Itai Weissman on electronic wind instrument (EWI) and drummer Jeroen Batterink (all four musicians with a jazz background), their bohemian charm was irresistible, presenting mostly original songs whose stories were expressed through the incisive, animated vocals of Huijbregts, shaped with live loops as well as twinkling glockenspiel.

Seated together in a welcoming, ‘gather round and listen’ arc, the quartet took selections from their previous album Something So Sweet and new release What If (plus a Radiohead interpretation), Huijbregts’ fluency matched by Even’s deft guitar; and the synthy voicings of Weissman’s wind instrument inflected the floral, folksong-like atmospheres with jazz improvisation. Wonderfully unpredictable, and with a Dutch aura vaguely reminiscent of Finn Silver, here was another of mjf’s sought-out treasures for which the festival’s artistic director should be congratulated. A performance warmly received.

Sanne Huijbregts

Andy Stamatakis-Brown – Cottonopolis (festival commission)

The location had been kept under wraps to ticket buyers until the day before, and it couldn’t have been more fitting. Intertwining two very different facets of the city’s historic past – its vast contribution to the industrial revolution and the ‘Madchester’ dance music scene of the 1980s and ‘90s – Manchester-based jazz musician Andy Stamatakis-Brown’s Cottonopolis was premièred in the depths of Wellington Mill – an old cotton-manufacturing building in Ancoats. A labyrinthic entrance, through wall-painted street art and memorabilia, led to the dark, strongly-pillared vaulted ceilings of the venue where an expectant, mostly standing crowd were surrounded by hung calico sheets onto which abstract, monochrome videos of mill machinery were projected.

As a concept, Stamatakis-Brown was drawn to the repetitive connection between industrial machinery and the techno trance of house/dance music, resulting in a relentless, through-composed work of some 75 minutes or more for twelve-piece band which conjures club atmospheres with jazz improvisation. Contemporary commissions might instil thoughts of challenging, free soundscapes – but here was an intensive, accessible, groove-based work which quickly captured the dance-beat hearts of the audience. Featuring musicians from the Manchester Jazz Collective, with two drummers and an especially strong horn presence, Stamatakis-Brown’s mechanical-recording prelude, captured at the Manchester Museum of Science of Industry, set the musical shuttles flying – and with the composer as keyboardist, signature ‘good life’ high-synth melodies were set against driving rhythms which invited sparkling improvised solos. The episodic nature of the piece – perhaps reflecting the unrelenting night-and-day pattern of a hard, Victorian working life – offset the drum-heavy grooves, oscillating low synths and rasping riffs with reflection, the changes marked by appreciative whoops from an animated audience.

Increasingly, Stamatakis-Brown’s cultural connections became reinforced with the adroit, hypnotic merging of physical and electronic sounds – surely a recording must be due to hit the spindles.

Andy Stamatakis-Brown’s Cottonopolis
Andy Stamatakis-Brown


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

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