Monthly Archives: June 2010

Unfurl – St Ann’s Church, Manchester

It’s always a pleasure to see music played live in St. Anne’ Church; a beautiful light baths everything as it pours through the stained glass windows. On occasions such as today, when the music has a certain majestic quality to it as well, audience members can end up being privy to something quite special; Stuart McCallum’s Manchester Jazz Festival commission here a couple of years ago was one such time, and there are high hopes for Neil Yates’s antiphonal performance this coming July too. But today it was the turn of Olivia Moore and her Unfurl group to inject some splendour into the lazy Manchester Sunday afternoon.

Moore has been an active part of the city’s alternative music scene for some years now, and her approach to music is one well worthy of admiration. Having trained originally as a classical violinist her playing has a purity about it, that when mixed with her interests in Arabic, Indian classical and jazz forms too, and it becomes is a heady concoction of energy and serenity in equal measures.

Showcasing Unfurl’s relatively recent line-up revision this concert was eagerly anticipated by fans who had enjoyed previous live performances. Alongside Moore on violin were percussionist, and long-time collaborator, Adam Warne; Jim Faulkner who has taken over from Stuart McCallum on guitar; bassist Gavin Barras; and finally second percussionist John Ball, who has now become a full time member of the group following his successful appearance with Unfurl at last year’s Manchester Jazz Festival.

The group performed tracks from Moore’s debut outing Amaghasiddhi, as well as several of those compositions featured in at the the Manchester Jazz Festival commission. There were also a few new peices that went a long way in showing how the new members of Unfurl were influencing the groups overall sound. As usual Moore’s compositions were exuberant and poignant affairs; each section of music acting like miniature vignettes. This is music that is intricate and yet capable of telling a universal story, what that story is, is probably very different to each listener, but it is this ability to conjure vivid imagery that makes it hugely accessible. There is no doubt that this is serious music, but many of Moore’s compositions have a devious or off-kilter feel to them. This is particularly true of the infectious Amitabha; a track akin to the more joyful and melodic early period The Penguin Cafe Orchestra. ‘City’ too was a particular highlight, with guitarist Jim Faulkner and Moore diving and swirling around each other playfully. In contrast ‘Fire’ was an altogether more edgy affair with Gavin Barras taking the group down a trance-like path with his pulsing bass riff. Rhythm dominated melody in this instance, resulting in a frantic swirl of sound that was reminiscent of The Master Musicians of Jajouka from Morocco.

This group has a very personal sound that is truly unique. Obviously each member brings a vast array of global influences to the table, but this is not ‘world music’ or ‘ethnic music’; it is simply music – a fusion in the truest sense. Enriching and full of life, this was one Sunday event well worth getting out of bed for.


Real Book North West – Real Book North West

In 2005 when Mancunian keyboard player John Ellis first conceived the idea of creating a real book of tunes written solely by jazz composers from the North West, he couldn’t have guessed that things would have come this far. With Real Book North West successfully in circulation, a lengthy supporting UK tour, and now this Jazz Services funded CD available to buy, the project has been one the most successful and daring promotions of regional jazz for some time.

Competing with the tradition real book of standards that includes ‘Body and Soul’ and ‘Take the A Train’ is a tall order, but really anyone seeing it that way is kind of missing the point. Real Book North West is a complementary addition to any regional jazzers gigging repertoire, as well as being a way for national and even international players to hear more of the original music that has come out of the North West over the years.

On this CD we are presented with a selection of 15 of the publication’s best offerings and by its very nature it’s a mixed bag of ideas and moods that range from Ulrich Elbracht’s joyfully uplifting ‘Anything You Like’ to Simon Picton’s spiky, film noir inflected ‘Blue Chilli’. With a line up that includes Andy Schofield (saxs), Mike Walker (gtr), Les Chisnall (p), Steve Berry (bs) and Dave Walsh (dr), the standard of playing on this recording is predictably high. This quintet is made up of the region’s premiere instrumentalists and listening to this album it is evident that there is a long musical history and established empathy between all of them. Having seen this group play at the launch of the Real Book several years ago and last summer on the Manchester leg of their national tour, it is obvious that this project mean a lot to them. Throughout, the playing is passionate and considered, and highlights do come thick and fast. It is especially good to see promising emerging composers such as bassist Matt Owens on the track-list alongside the more established writers like Mike Walker or Les Chisnell, who both actually deliver some of recordings’ best writing and delivery. Chisnell’s ‘Shadow of a Dream’ stands out as being a particularly potent blend of melancholy and reverential beauty.

Overall this is an essential CD for anyone who has any sort of an interest in the North West’s ever growing jazz pedigree. Compositions are both broad in scope and encouragingly original, undoubtedly proving that they can hold their own on bandstands wherever the real book may find itself in the years ahead.