FESTIVAL REPORT: 2017 Manchester Jazz Festival 5 & 6 August

Dinosaur at mjf
Photo credit: Christopher Gray

2017 Manchester Jazz Festival – Saturday/Sunday 5 & 6 August
(Report by Rhiannon Symonds)


Trumpeter Neil Yates has spent some time looking introspectively at his understanding of bebop and the African roots of such music, and created Afriibop, a show that looks both back to the genesis of jazz and yet also forward to its future. Joined by long-time collaborator Dean Masser on tenor saxophonist, the musical relationship between the two is made even more evident by the new relationships with Zsolt Bende and Felix Ngindu on guitar and drums respectively, as well as being joined by Russ Hayes on bass.

As one would expect with a new show, new charts and a new band, there are some teething issues here. Although Ngindu has very obvious talent in his native Congo grooves, the opening to Ese y Ini, a new take on the jazz standard All of Me, began shakily as the fusion between lounge jazz and reggae had a slight false start. However, such small issues were swiftly solved.

While Yates was keen for the show to be a dancehall-inspired affair, the timing of 1pm in the afternoon and the set list did not necessarily inspire the image of the dance parties of yesteryear. Although the numbers Chimes, As a Man Thinketh and Atmosphere were haunting and relaxed, they did not particularly follow the influences and focuses of Afriik and Ese y Ini, both very clearly a fusion of 1950s bebop and African influences.

There was much of credit about this show, especially the careful consideration from Yates regarding cultural background, inspiration and improvisation. And, naturally, Yates’ beautifully warm, airy sound.


Following their recent Mercury nomination, Dinosaur have been named the “outsiders” to win this year’s prize. However, they were the firm favourites for their packed-out crowd in the Salon Perdu on Saturday afternoon. With an infectious energy that gelled the whole group together as one, they were a collection of soloists that had no egos, and therefore a perfect unity.

This was a set of intelligent fun; although BBC New Generation artist and leader Laura Jurd did not speak to the adoring crowd often, that which was said was informative, succinct, and did not slow the flow of the set. Their subtle folk influences emerged early in the hour, in their second track, which showed they can navigated compound time signatures effortlessly, with nailed down grooves from Corrie Dick on drums.

There was mastery of both instrument and rhythm from every member, but Elliot Galvin and Jurd took that mastery one step further with their use of electronics. A Cory Henry for the youth, Galvin showed both musicality and ingenuity in his solos, taking microtonal voice-leading to the max. His melodic relationship with Jurd made for inspired improvisation and left the audience hanging on every beat. The name of their debut album, Together As One, describes this group perfectly. Conor Chaplin on bass together with Dick on drums were the ultimate pairing – always graceful.

Dinosaur takes the aesthetic of Snarky Puppy and furthers it, avoiding the clichés of harmonic satisfaction in recognisable chord sequences and delaying the rich, full sounds they are so very capable of for so long that when they arrive, they are nothing short of glorious. The only unfulfilled wish is that we don’t stay in this fat, glossy sound world for longer, but perhaps the tantalisingly short foray into harmonic satisfaction is what makes it so special?

This is a group with a limitless future, and their new album next year will be hotly anticipated. The most wonderful thing about watching them perform live is the sense of humour they bring to the stage. This set was scheduled to finish at 4pm, and they brought the house down with applause at 4 on the dot, showing off a clock to the audience to prove it! A fabulously slick set but with heart and passion.

Horse Orchestra in the wild
Publicity picture

Horse Orchestra

Their description in the programme describes them as anarchic, and anarchic they were! An excellently weird start to their set with Två gave the maximum capacity for polyphonic New Orleans-style improvisation. While there may only be seven of these supremely talented musicians, there must have been melodies in triple figures bashing against each other at the opening of this uproarious set! The listeners’ senses were assaulted with noise, extended techniques and chaos for what felt like an age, until it stopped as abruptly as it had begun and pianist Jeppe Zeeberg took the mic to address the bewildered but energised crowd.

Nach der Frau mit der Brille followed, a Gordon Goodwin-esque saga that showed off the technical abilities of every musician on stage in a cartoonish way, with some astonishing solos from Petter Hängsel on trombone and Rune Lohse on drums. They explained that on their tour to Germany Hängsel was so inspired by the churches of Germany that he wrote the next piece, Very Big Dom. “No shortage of language jokes this afternoon, listeners!” This parodic waltz gave saxophonist Ingimar Andersen a chance to show off a sound to rival that of Marius Neset, with a sweepingly sarcastic solo that swooped over the glamorous harmonies with ease.

By beginning so chaotically with Två, the gradual wind-down back to diatonic harmony and rhythmic sanity made the set flow naturally, and to move on to a Bach chorale was quite simply genius. Arranged by Zeeberg, it was an almost perfect transcription of the organ part, with the exception of Lohse on drums who did his very best impression of Animal, interfering with the chorale and yet never disturbing it.

Horse Orchestra are undoubtedly a group who don’t take themselves too seriously, and paradoxically this makes them incredibly serious, as their technique and togetherness is unparalleled. To step up the daft-o-meter, What are Toben and the Bear Doing Tonight? had a ring of Norwegian children’s song Alle Fugle Smol about it, only with far more outlandish harmony and some very exploratory solos.

To promote their last album, Horse Orchestra treated us to the title track Four Letter Word, which showcased the great Scandinavian jazz tradition of a groove that you can’t nail down but makes you move. The slick relationship between tuba player Kristian Tangvik, bassist Nicolai Kaas Claesson and Lohse was what held these exceptional grooves together.

As an even more special treat, we were given the world premiere of Denske Sang er ihn…, an unfinished title but a gorgeously complete 12/8 ballad, with a flowing melody from trombone, tuba, and Erik Kimestad Pedersen on velvet-toned trumpet, showing they can do absolutely anything, including traditionally pretty ballads, with no shortage of light homophonic textures.

We were left gasping for more after Horsen, which is undoubtedly Hunting Wabbits’ even more crazy cousin, and named after a Danish town that we were assured was much duller than the tune!
Following raging applause, and boos and hisses for mjf director Steve Mead as he told us we couldn’t have one more, we were allowed one encore, of Horsen, backwards! Which is just the epitome of how off-the-cuff and capable these musicians truly are.

Anticipation builds in the Secret Salon
Photo credit: Rhiannon Symonds

mjf Finale: Secret Salon

The details of the secret finale were kept so tightly under wraps that the gig was undoubtedly the most hotly anticipated of the final weekend. Sold out just hours before the doors opened, queues of people surrounded the circumference of the Salon Perdu with an atmosphere of intrigue and excitement beginning to develop ahead of the doors opening at 8.30pm. And we were not disappointed!

The daytime venue was transformed into a nightclub of the past, with character actors in costume from every decade of history and booths of games, photo props and, of course, Wychwood brews at the bar. Portrait artist @jessicaonpaper was present, offering free portraits to the evenings guests, and the wonderful Horse Orchestra were wandering about amongst the audience getting us hyped up for another set from them during the evening.

Handing out gold and silver raffle tickets, the character actors made the evening a consummate performance, as did the beautiful Madame Perdu, a fabulous character who reportedly had been travelling with the tent since 1917, the date of the first jazz recording! The evening focused on the development of jazz over the last 100 years, and was excellently conceived.

Dinosaur pianist and trio leader Elliot Galvin served as our cocktail pianist for the evening, playing jazz standards with a modern flair, intermittently between Horse Orchestra and amongst improv scenes from our character actors.

A special mention deserves to go to the spoken word artist for the evening, whose name we unfortunately were not provided with! However, the artist was a wonderful sport, agreeing to an improv rap with Horse Orchestra drummer Rune Lohse providing a beat.

This was an evening of sparkling excitement, glitz and glamour, and a perfect finale to the day’s performances.

Elliot Galvin Trio

Off the back of his performance at the Secret Salon the night before, pianist Elliot Galvin returned with fellow Dinosaur member, drummer Corrie Dick and was joined by bassist Tom McCredie for his Sunday trio set in the Salon Perdu.

An immediate hit with the younger audience members, their first chart, New Model, was so popular a young toddler cried out “yay!” A very quiet presence on stage, Galvin seemed far more subdued seated at a grand piano than during the Saturday set with Dinosaur. That being said, it was appropriate for the gig, as the use of electronics was far greater, and there were so many different aspects to every tune that too lively a presence on stage may have been simply distracting.

The constant across the set was the ease with which this group transitions from ethereal free-time into solid grooves, no doubt helped by the relationship between McCredie and Dick.

Their exploration of the future of jazz does not just press forward, but also takes what has gone before and revamps it, proved in their tune Blues, a traditional blues, or so it appears initially, that almost immediately deviates from the standard 12-bar chord sequence. Galvin has an undeniable ear for the potential of sounds. At one point he plucked the piano strings of the piano at the same time as using the hammer to strike them. Similarly, his use of old Punch and Judy recordings was both humorous and ingenious.

The toddlers dancing away proved that the up-and-coming generation will absolutely love the music of the Elliot Galvin Trio and all those who follow in their footsteps.

LINKS: Adrian Pallant’s report of mjf 29 July

Adrian Pallant’s report of mjf 30 July

Adrian Pallant’s report of mjf 3 August

Adrian’s report of mjf 4 August

Categories: miscellaneous

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