Live review

Northern Line showcase at the 2023 Manchester Jazz Festival

Jazz North Northern Line showcase

(mjf@ First Street Main Stage. Manchester Jazz Festival . 21 May 2023. Live reviews by AJ Dehany)

Nat Sharp and young fan. Phone snap by AJ Dehany

Each year since 2012 the Jazz North development agency’s Northern Line programme has selected five northern artists to support their development and live performance, with some now well-established alumni including Zoe Gilby, John Pope and Archipelago, and J Frisco and Lara Jones. It is not a programme for purists, but 2023 presents a particularly ‘adjacent’ vision of the music, with jazz-punk group Maruja, the confrontational dark techno and sound art of Nat Sharp, and a sampling of the urban soul zeitgeist from Amique & The Ecstasy, DAYZY, and The KTNA.

In the perfect sunshine in the open air as part of the Manchester Jazz Festival’s opening weekender, a warmer audience (literally) couldn’t be imagined for the Northern Line showcase on a glorious Sunday afternoon, but in and of itself the likeable roster maybe proves that while all that glisters isn’t necessarily jazz, sometimes we worry about it too much.  It can be frustrating to the jazz police, or just jazz fans generally, but it is at least a decisive statement of outlook. 

Amique & The Ecstasy are a confidently executed synthesis of funky soul jazz with a smooth solid soul sound in the spirit of Donny Hathaway. Light On is a rich retro slow-jam with a catchy refrain from the appealing soul voice of singer Amique. The likeable six-piece group have got the vibe down and look and feel the part, I must admit. 

Rapper/singer DAYZY brought a soft delivery and easy flow for a slight urban edge to his own smooth soul RnB group, working a warm crowd to the call and response to the catchy “Black boy remedy!” Hooks weren’t as pronounced throughout but a female vocal sample dominated the all-male format as the chorus of lightly romantic track Expectations, an electronic intervention that skewed and instantly added edge and interest to the melodic sound.

Twin sisters The KTNA are Kenyan-born but reprazent (sic) North Manchester specifically. Flamboyantly dressed in black PVC and cowgirl hats, imagine the All Killa No Filla podcast reimagined as a double vision of Beyonce. Their signature song Hull stands as an unrepentant proclamation of endurance against enduring bullshit.  They brought a star quality to some edgy urban soul with sorry-not-sorry  expletive language in singalong-worthy songs like “I don’t need enemies with friends like you.” The supporting trio of instrumentalists play with the attack of a rock band. It’s more than a party vibe, it’s an attitude. 

Nat Sharp brought attitude to a very different kind of party, with a sound and approach more contemporaneous in its booming sub-bass, open structures and dense electronic textures. A solo set of basic dark techno and sound art was black as coal in the sunshine, but demonstrated that this area of music and sound isn’t as bleak as people assume. Indeed, being in Manchester would remind you that post-punk bands like Joy Division took the darkest of imagery and created a vital and at times violent affirmation. 

As a combative performer, Nat is more than ever channelling Pete Burns and Genesis P. Orridge, whose band Throbbing Gristle’s classic album is the gloriously misleading 20 Jazz Funk Greats. While Nat’s work bears about as much relation to jazz funk as that does, a newer track with more of a post-dubstep pop flavour reminiscent of The XX gave a glimpse to a direction that sounded more personal and appealingly musical than the prevailing material brought forward from Nat’s former guise as Lone Taxidermist, the ongoing multimedia project Marra. It depicts the Weird Britain pastoral of Cumbrian and Seychellean experience as a test case of a synecdoche of England. It reflects the cultural melting pot of our identities— which, no matter your view on what does or doesn’t qualify as jazz, or even jazz funk— is a unifying outlook shared by all of the artists over a decade of the Northern Line.

AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff.

LINK: MJF website

Categories: Live review, Reviews

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