FESTIVAL REPORT: 2017 Manchester Jazz Festival – 4th August

Joshua Redman at the RNCM, Manchester

2017 Manchester Jazz Festival – Friday 4th August
(Report and photographs by Adrian Pallant)

Further insights from Manchester Jazz Festival (mjf), including Joshua Redman’s sole UK performance…

Medbøe / Eriksen / Halle

Guitarist Haftor Medbøe, pianist Espen Eriksen and trumpeter Gunnar Halle brought the panoramic sublimity of their album The Space Between into the pin-drop live space of St Ann’s Church; and having explored their atmospheric Nordic sounds since first convening as a trio at the 2013 Edinburgh Jazz Festival, its clear their musical conversations now flow as freely as ever. Eriksen and Halle had jetted in from Oslo to be there.

The ‘spaces between’ truly are an equal part of the often heart-tugging, impressionistic strength they communicate – and in this environment, Halle’s trumpet especially soared up into the heights. Espen Eriksen’s sustained piano detailing was exquisite as he visibly seized upon improvisational cues from Medbøe and Halle in numbers such as East Pier, Bell Rock and Utsira High. Often it was a single, plaintive instrumental line creating fragile suspension which, from the audience’s perspective, held the breath; and the trio’s ability to then fold in to summon new textures was so reverently executed – no sense of jarring or abrupt transition. Halle’s subtle use of electronics and his own voice or breath through the mouthpiece created endless possibilities, imbuing these soundscapes with homely warmth or icy bleakness; and Medbøe’s shift from soft guitar textures to harder-edged though subtle rock announced brighter, jazz animation throughout the trio.

An hour of pulse-lowering, ethereal beauty.

Gunnar Halle at St Ann’s Church, Manchester


Another emotional treasure brought to mjf was London-based Sawa – a trio collaboration between British-Iraqi singer Alya Al-Sultani, Leipzig-born pianist Clemens Christian Poetzsch and British cellist Shirley Smart. Taking Al-Sultani’s considerable first-hand knowledge of Iraqi and Arabic folk songs as a basis, presented through the richly fragrant inflections and emotive resonances of her compelling voice, this absorbing set became rhythmically infused with Poetszch’s polyrhythmic fervour at the piano; and Smart’s busy arco and pizzicato cello brought a tremendous, dance-like, percussive physicality (her broad career has included a decade in Jerusalem, where she became immersed in its cultural and musical life).

With songs frequently themed around the subject of women, love and desire, the emotive tension of Sawa’s Lebanese opener Bint El-shalabiya led to mystical 1950s Egyptian dance Bahlam Beek (translated as ‘I dream of you’), brimming with rhythmic interplay between cello and piano. Two Iraqi folksongs stemming from the sentiment ‘You’re my heart, I only have one; so if you go, what’s left for me?’ were announced by the emotive vibrato of Smart’s solo cello which, when carried by Poetszch’s romanticism, seemed to enter an otherworldly realm before the vocal entry – and then escalated into a piano-fifths rock groove with luscious improvisational ideas. Elsewhere, and around Al-Sultani’s deeply-felt enunciations (including a measure of scat), Poetszch’s heavy, rolling piano motifs set up bustling grooves and jazz-piano swing to Smart’s ‘walking bass’ and glissandi; and a closing number in the Arabic tradition, translated as ‘Words’ and set to Lebanese poetry, reflected ‘a woman’s desire for a man to treat her like a queen’.

Meeting the festival’s continuing ethos of wide-ranging jazz and improvisation, Sawa’s sultry exoticism – in numbers taken from their debut release – was a joy.

Sawa: Alya Al-Sultani, Clemens Christian Poetszch and Shirley Smart


Led by drummer Benoît Parmentier and fronted by clarinettist/saxophonist Adrien Cau, five-piece London band Kinkajous served up a refreshing blend of synthy, whirling folk melodies from their EP Staring at the Odds, along with new material for a planned 2018 debut album. With the inventive talent of Maria Chiara Argirò on keyboards and Leo Wyatt on synths, their intense grooves were driven by the babbling electric bass of Andres Castellanos.

Throughout an hour’s set, percussively-strong dance music was juxtaposed with the lyrical depth of Cau’s bass clarinet; and as the quintet found their stride, exciting Weather Report-style fast-jazz was characterised by bleeping astro-synth effects, new-age sustained tremulant keys and animated drum rhythms.

Promising beginnings from a nu-jazz perspective.

Kinkajous: Benoît Parmentier, Maria Chiara Argirò, Andres Castellanos, Leo Wyatt and Adrien Cau

Joshua Redman Quartet – Still Dreaming

Revered US tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman’s sole UK performance had been keenly anticipated – and the packed RNCM theatre audience bubbled with anticipation as the spotlights shone down onto a space which would soon come alive to the sounds of his Still Dreaming quartet with equally distinguished colleagues Ron Miles (cornet), Scott Colley (double bass) and Brian Blade (drums). They were there to celebrate the acclaimed Old and New Dreams quartet of the 1970s and ‘80s which featured his father, Dewey Redman, along with Charlie Haden, Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell (all sidemen for Ornette Coleman).

Arriving to a rapturous welcome, Redman launched ebulliently into his own Blues for Charlie (Haden), then Scott Colley’s lively swinger, New Year; and on declaring that this was his first visit to the city, he teased the Mancunian faithful by asking, “This is where The Beatles are from, right?”, followed by, “I can’t believe I just said that!” Redman’s good-natured opening gambit symbolised the mutual warmth throughout the hall as they paid musical tribute to Ed Blackwell, Brian Blade’s complex rapidity at the kit quite breathtaking. Redman and Miles flanked the rhythm section, facing each other throughout – and with strong white lights behind, their shifting shadows reflected hugely on the venue’s side walls, suggesting that Dewy and Don were right there with them. The slickness of this essentially chordless quartet was impeccable, with Redman especially animated at each percussive explosion, dancing and recoiling with glee, as if completely caught by surprise. Ornette Coleman’s slow, funeral-marching Broken Shadows was beautifully expressed by bluesy horns and arco bass; and the contrasting, yelping bustle of Dewy Redman’s Rush Hour saw great intuition between Miles and Blade, the drummer’s smiling delight obvious throughout.

Joshua Redman’s mysteriously grooving It’s Not the Same opened the second set. But the evening’s showstopper came in the form of an interpretation of Don Cherry’s Guinea, with Colley in an effusive, rhythmic conversation with Blade, and Redman’s low semitonal roars countered by his astonishingly accelerated improvisation. Then, taking a breather, the seated saxophonist’s meditative, downward gaze focused on Miles’ growling extemporisations before they bartered exchanges across a descending motif, one seemingly pushing the other towards cave-in! The quartet’s extended closing piece (save for a much-appreciated encore) began as Charlie Haden’s Song for Che, where carefully phrased horns pattered around Colley’s thrummed bass and Blade’s gentle excursions around the kit, gradually edging toward a subtle calypso before widening into twelve-bar exuberance.

The overriding afterglow from this performance was that we had been in the presence of giants – not just the quartet present, but also the incredible jazz bloodline that somehow presided over the evening with us. Pure magic.

Joshua Redman, Scott Colley, Brian Blade and Ron Miles


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

Categories: miscellaneous

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