This year’s Manchester Jazz Festival has certainly got a strong international flavour to it with groups from Spain, Italy, and Norway all being flown in to play. Along with this, the French group Alata were over this Tuesday to perform at the RNCM in what was their debut in the UK.
Led by Fancis Le Bras on Rhodes piano the quartet has a unique sound that mashes together a range of influences from Europe and Africa. Although Olivier Py provided some bold and distinctive colour on both the tenor saxophone and at times flute, this is an outfit very much driven from the back.
Bass player Thierry Colson looked very much the part with his drooping moustache and did a great job of locking his fellow band members together with his muscular riffs on the upright. This backbone was a well needed source of stability when considering the collective rhythmic counterpoints that both drummer Guillaume Dommartin and Le Bras chose to throw at one another throughout. This was often busy and frantic music with open cymbal crashes raining down on top of spiky cascades of notes from the overdriven keyboard. Knowing that these compositions were penned following time in Africa and they do a good job of painting a colourful picture of vibrant and chaotic life there.
That being said the French influence was never far away and on several tunes the pace was brought right down conjuring up the feeling of a hot and rainy Parisian night. La Bras lethargically poured glutinous chords from his piano and Dommartin subtly utilised small chimes and cymbal scratches to produce textures that were sensual and cinematic.
The only small problem with the concert was La Bras’ decision to use samples during several pieces. These indigenous songs and soundscapes were there in an attempt to emphasise further the African influence but they simply clashed with the direction of the music. Rather than being a fully integrated part of the compositions, they seemed like a bit of an afterthought; and in several cases the technology sadly didn’t work at all. Instead of adding to the already complex arrangements of sound these beats and samples jusr acted as a distraction.
Regardless of this minor quarrel, Alata were a welcome addition to this year’s festival with their shadowy music for midnight, thick with dark romance and frantic danger.