Bourne/Davis/Kane featuring Paul Dunmall at RNCM – 30th July 2009

Bourne Davis KaneThere is now doubt about it, this trio is one of the most adventurous and challenging groups in the UK at the moment. Based in Leeds these three exceptionally talented musicians all play a major part in the city’s ever prolific LIMA collective. Although separately they all have successful recording careers, together their telepathic skills as improvisers truly shine.

This was free music in every sense of the word with each member of the group giving and taking spontaneously throughout their performance. On this occasion British free jazz hero Paul Dunmall also joined them on stage for a cross generational meeting of minds that was simply explosive. 

The set comprised of four lengthy improvisations which mostly worked by taking a small idea and building upon it a layer at a time; like a helium ballon being filled breath by breath until it eventually implodes in on itself giving way under the pressure.

Paul Dunmall

These musical passages were like mini dramas unfolding in front of our eyes and portrayed a mixed bag of emotions. Too often free improvising groups lack the dynamic variety to keep an audience engaged, but in this case they were able to affect a whole range of emotions using pace, energy and interaction. At times it was difficult to keep up with the intensity of all four players who at their most chaotic sounded almost painfully violent. In complete juxtaposition their were times when a playfulness crept into the performance, especially in Matthew Bourne’s case, who at time virtually climbed into the piano to manipulate it with his hands – at one point even using a empty cup from the tea he had just finished drinking.

An unexpected highlight of the set came during the final piece when the intensity and atonality of previous sections were put to one side. This was replaced by a beautiful drifting piece instigated by Bourne, who slowly floated chords from his piano as Dunmall complemented them with some enchantingly beautiful lines. After the violence of the previous works this came as a surprise but the footnote only emphasised the contrast and proved that free improvisation can be equally as powerful, without necessarily travelling at one hundred miles per hour.

Alata at the RNCM – 28th July 2009

Francis Le BrasThis 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.

Guillaume Dommartin

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.  

Phil Meadows Quartet at the Festival Pavilion – 28th July 2009

Phil Meadows This enigmatic young player totally blew the cobwebs out of the Festival Pavilion during his afternoon slot this Tuesday. Playing here with Finlay Panter on drums, John Sandham on bass and Chris Illingworth on piano, the audience were treated to easily one the best free gigs so far this week. Meadow’s style manages to equally embrace an effortless beauty, as well as delving into the darker stuff, mixing up some ear-bending time signatures with a freer style that left many aghast and exhilarated.

Meadows does not shy away from his obvious love of John Coltrane and finished his set by playing a exquisitely warped version of My Favourite things that was pumped full of adrenaline and deservedly received one of the largest applauses of the day. But this is a player with his own style and obviously isn’t afraid to be his own man. With a great stage presence and unforgettable instrumental style this is a local player to watch out for in the future.

If you want to see Phil Meadows again then you don’t have to wait that long as he is also playing with Expo3, his drum and bass/electronic/jazz outfit. They are on with headliners Cats in Paris at Manchester’s Ruby Lounge from 7.30pm this Saturday.

For more information visit: www.myspace.com/hearheremcr

Olivia Moore: Mask at The Contact Theatre – 28th July 2009

Olivia MooreEntering the performance space of Olivia Moore’s Manchester Jazz Festival commission and you are immediately composed for the hour ahead. With only 60 seats in this studio venue there was a sense of intimacy from the very beginning. This was amplified by the low level lighting and dull Eastern drones that enveloped the room and acted to suitably prepare the audience for the almost meditative concert that was about to ensue.

If the aim of the MJF Originals scheme was to give regional composers the time and financial backing to produce something new and above all personal, then in this regard Mask is a huge success. It is apparent that Moore has had complete creative freedom on this project and has injected herself both musically and spiritually into the work. Throughout a series of musical passages and integrated short films the audience is taken along a narrative that charts childhood innocence, the disconnection of adult city life and eventually the reconnection with self through spirituality and nature. Whether this is biographical is left ambiguously, but it is obvious from Moore’s passionate delivery that this work is personal to her in many ways.

Musically, the compositions are mostly textural with members of the group improvising together to create vast sways of sound. Stuart McCallum is perfectly placed on this occasion and utilises his trademark guitar loops and echoes to great effect, while particular mention should also be made of John Ball whose work on the tabla and santoor (an Indian stringed instrument) gave colour and vibrancy to the work. Moore herself can obviously play the violin with great dexterity, but for the most part she used it with economy and for this she must be credited; although this was her project, this was a group effort musically and it shows her maturity as a leader that she gave so much space to others involved.

MASK

This was a multi media project with the music being illustrated throughout by a series of short films and visual collages. These images were projected on a large screen behind the performers who were bathed in low light throughout. Sadly there were times when the visuals just didn’t work and their blunt and slightly ham fisted delivery of the message often acted as a distraction against the subtlety and challenging nature of the music being created. The film at times made it feel as though we as audience members were being forced down a narrative path whether we liked it or not; and although it is understandable that Moore wanted to get her message across, in all honestly the music was powerful enough to do this on it own without the babbling waterfalls or silly footage of our muse stroking trees and rolling around on the forest floor.

That being said, this was a musical experience in the truest sense, and it did feel as if we oversaw something truly original, spontaneous and thoughtful.

Matt Owens: Ten at The Greenroom – 26th July 2009

Have you ever seen a bassoon in a jazz orchestra? Well you have now and to be completely honest, it was wonderful.

Matt OwensThis Sunday saw the premier performance of bassist Matt Owens’ new suite of music commissioned by the Manchester Jazz Festival. Quite unlike anything you may have heard before the general premise of the Owens’ concert was to compose and arrange music for both a jazz quintet, and perhaps more unconventionally, a wind quintet featuring; flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn. With one side more comfortable as improvisers and the other used to sticking to the charts it could have been a risk for everyone involved, but it was an inspired choice to team up with the Souza Winds (a group who usually work in the contemporary classical field), and by all accounts the two camps seemed to work together perfectly.

Owens’ music is mischievous and full of far reaching influences that swept the audience along on a carpet ride, taking in samba beats and Middle Eastern rhythms along the way. But undercutting the exotic nature of many of the compositions there was a true sense that the real magic happens right here at home. This is a truly English composer who, whether conscious or otherwise, has written songs that are as quaint and whimsical as a picnic in the Cotswolds.

After his opening ode to the strangely comforting nature of Manchester’s wet weather days, complete with glockenspiel raindrops and penny whistle solo, we were transported to a bygone era of cream tea and crumpets with ‘Violet’ a picture post card of a song, in which Lucy Rugman delighting everyone with her uplifting lines on the clarinet .

There is no avoiding the playful nature of this commission if you take into account ‘Children’s Theme’, a kitch and breezy number that grooved along with Owens’ walking blues infused bass line, or ‘The Mouse Song’ featuring Odbod Collective counterpart Tom Davies; but that being said, there was absolutely nothing dated or pastiche about Owens’ work, and in fact this was a complex and accomplished work akin to the likes of Loose Tubes’ madcap pianist Django Bates’ work, or even the joyful pace of much of Joe Zawinul’s later Syndicate output. In all this was a brave and enjoyable start to the MJF Originals programme that should remind all jazz composers that music can be fun as well as serious.

If Destroyed Still True Live in the Bridgewater Hall Foyer – 26th July 2009

IDSTAs ever The Manchester Jazz Festival has succeeded in programming some great music in the Bridgewater Hall foyer this year, with a personal highlight so far being If Destroyed Still True (IDST) last Sunday. I first saw this Leeds based group at the Fuse Festival in their hometown a couple of months ago and was impressed by their original sound. Drawing from classical, folk and jazz traditions they have been able to create something quintessentially English with their quirky rhythm patterns and strangely catchy melodies. At times the music can pulse forward at quite a rate, driven by Seth Bennet who sets a fire underneath the group, but mostly the playing is measured, considered and intense in its delivery. Making music accessible as well as challenging must be one of the most difficult things to achieve in jazz but in this case IDST have certainly managed to succeed and I expect we will be hearing a lot more about them in the future.

The Manchester Jazz Festival Has Begun – Opening Night Review – 24th July 2009

I heart MJFAfter all the waiting and preparations, hard work and hoping, the Manchester Jazz Festival 2009 has officially begun. In the week ahead there is an abundance of fantastic live music across 10 city centre venues just waiting to be discovered. As usual there are free lunchtime and after-work concerts; along with the addition of some choice programming in the Festival Pavilion, which is still standing proud in Albert Square.

If there is one top tip today then that is to check out Jaume Vilaseca Quartet playing Jazznesis at 2pm this afternoon in St Anne’s Square. It sounds like a bit of a madcap idea but this group from Madrid have flown over to Manchester especially to thrill us all with their jazz re-workings of early Genesis albums. Having blended the complexity of classic British prog-rock with the vibrancy of Spanish rhythmic jazz, then this can’t help but be exciting.

But before we get all excited about the days ahead we should take stock, after all this is the morning after the night before and its right to stop to thank Sam Andreae at The Freedom Principle for his work towards putting together such an excellent opening night launch party at Trof’s Deaf and Dumb Institute. The evening’s programme was a fairly good representation of the emerging Manchester scene with a trio of young groups on offer.

SouthboundKicking things off were Southbound a quartet with maturity beyond their years. This bassless quartet had a sound of such clarity and self assurance that it was hard not to be impressed. Their music was overtly composed, with some complex time signatures weaving the players together in a way which both disorientates and draws the listener further into the music. The lack of a bass would leave many quartets hindered aurally but in Southbound’s case, the room gave the other players the air they really needed to breathe. Pianist Tom Taylor and drummer Jon Ormston worked together in a real partnership throughout to create layers and textures of sound that whilst still holding everything firmly in place, were not set in stone but reactionary to freewheeling melodic lines of Rob Cope on tenor and Jack Davies’ grounded influence on trumpet.

Taking things up a notch next was Laurence McNaughton’s quartet, a mostly up-tempo affair featuring some of the best new soloists on the Manchester scene. Holding things down throughout, McNaughton pounded the keys like a percussive instrument giving the music a huge injection of energy for those gathered around him to build on; and build they did, each taking their turn to get the blood circulating. Although this group certainly had a shared vision, in many ways it was their opposing styles that made it work. On one side of the stage, Sam Healey’s physical straight ahead style was incredible to watch, as he ultimately wrestled his alto into submission with a never ending cascade of notes. On the other side of the stage tenorman Sam Andreae choose a more left of field approach utilising the depths and heights of his instrument with guttural growls and breathless pops acting as the perfect antidote to Healey’s impact. Like a William Boroughs novel or Jackson Pollock painting your sensations are scattered and the unknown is truly what excites you: Andreae’s playing is in this vein and his solos take you through his own melodic wonderland, pushing you down the rabbit hole with him and kicking you out the other end feeling invigorated… and perhaps a little dishevelled.

Moss Freed

Bringing the evening to close guitarist Moss Freed’s outfit took to the stage with a set of intelligent and eclectic music. This group is totally unique in Manchester, with Joe Jones on violin standing as tall musically as Kenji Fenton on saxophones, and the fretless bass of Gavin Barras at times dancing with the crystal like voice of Alice Zawadzki. The folk influence here is undeniable and Freed’s phrasing and melodies are at times just achingly beautiful. This is a truly accomplished musician but his skills as a composer are really exceptional. At times the feel was reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s 1970’s groups with Jaco Pastorius and Wayne Shorter; Fenton blowing delicate but intense lines into the soprano. That being said Freed has put together a truly original group to create a sound that is most definitely a very personal one to him; both jazz and folk, both intricate and accessible. The perfect way to begin this year’s Manchester Jazz Festival