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August 2016 – upcoming gigs – three-date British tour of saz balladry by Aşıq Nargile (plus choral fizz, oddrock and pedal steel strangeness from Tut Vu Vu, Muldoon’s Picnic and Heather Leigh – 2nd-4th); Hackney Colliery Band & Bring Your Own Brass kick off Borderless in London (2nd)

30 Jul

In between appearances at the WOMAD and Supernormal festivals, Georgian saz player and singer Aşıq Nargile is embarking on a three-date British microtour in August, calling in at points in Scotland, Yorkshire and London.

Aşıq Nargile

In case you’re looking at the picture and thinking (lazily) “another girl folk singer”, it’s worth noting that “Aşıq” is an honorific, not a forename. It denotes a particular type of traditional Georgian bard, multilingual and mobile, who travels through the country’s diverse regions as vessels for music, news, concepts and culture both old and new. (A little like a Caucasian version of a West African griot, although perhaps without the satirical upsetter elements).

Originally from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, Nargile Mehtiyeva has carried the cosmopolitan traditions of her home town with her, but has chosen to base herself in the southern Borcali region. For the moment, she’s the only female aşıq at work there. A trilingual singer and player of the saz lute since her mid-teens, she’s now both a teacher of the traditional forms and (via the Sayat Nova initiative) an ambassador for Georgian culture. Her concerts involve interlocking musicality and literacy – a “vocal recital of epic folk poetry (in) Azerbaijani, Georgian, and Russian… by turns ecstatic and deeply expressive… interspersed with bursts of virtuosic, highly ornamented saz.” in the shape of “moving laments or upbeat folk dances.” For those who don’t speak any of those languages, the shows are still musically sensual experiences – propulsive and silvery cascades of wiry stringwork, accompanied by a vocal like an elastic lassoo and the stately assurance of someone backed up by a couple of thousand years of heritage.


 
Tour dates are as follows:

  • The Old Hairdressers, 23 Renfield Lane, Glasgow G2 6PH, Scotland, Tuesday 2nd August 2016, 7.30pm (supported by Tut Vu Vu + Muldoon’s Picnic) – information
  • Delius Arts & Cultural Centre, 29 Great Horton Road, Bradford, BD7 1AA, England, Wednesday 3rd August 2016…. (+ support act t.b.c.) – information here and here
  • The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 7NL, England, Thursday 4th August 2016, 7.30pm (with Heather Leigh) – information

While the Bradford gig is solo, the Glasgow show sees Nargile playing as part of a splendidly adventurous and diverse triple bill alongside two very different Glaswegian groups who have next to nothing in common bar their musicality.

Despite their cosy and informal appearance, a name that comes from drunken Irish misadventure, a repertoire reaching from “the sublime to the ridiculous” and their emphasis on fun and friendship in singing, acapella group Muldoon’s Picnic unites a number of very dedicated and talented Glasgow-based singer and scholars. Its six or seven regular members (not least in-house arranger Katy L. Cooper) have already made their mark in a brace of other vocal ensembles – Trembling Bells spin-off Crying Lion, Glasgow Madrigirls, The Four Hoarse Men, Voicebeat, Voicemale, Sang Scule, and “barbershop-prog” group Honey & The Herbs – plus more church, chapel, cathedral, workplace and community choirs than you could shake a stave at. As for that repertoire, it embraces gospel, shanties, Scots ballads, English carols, Afro-American spirituals, sacred harp songs, Victorian parlour music and music hall songs and assorted pieces cast up and circulated by the world music movement. Where other choral groups dabble, this one delves. The songs are sung not just in English but in other tongues of the British Isles (Scots Gaelic, Cornish, Manx and Welsh) and further afield: Breton, southern African Sotho, Ugandan Luganda and eastern European languages (Bulgarian, Croatian and Georgian – in the latter’s polyphonic music, they touch base with Nargile.)


 

The third act on the Glasgow bill, Tut Vu Vu, play their dark-browed and looming electrophonic instrumentals in a cloud of disinformation. When someone compares them to Anaïs Nin and David Lynch and they claim that it’s all a misunderstanding; someone else mentions musique concrète and they respond with askance, amused looks. When given the chances to set things straight, they deliver misleading mission statements filled with science fiction technogabble about phased plasma and hydrogen sulphide. What’s demonstrably true is that they’re an alliance of Glasgow art-punks who’ve already been around a decade’s cycle of experimental groups – Iban Perez in The Sparkling Shadazz, Rags & Feathers and A Rhythmtic) Raydale Dower, Matthew Black and Jamie Bolland in rattling theatricalists Uncle John & Whitelock.

Expect something of an oblique and inscrutable wall between the quartet’s current work and their previous brainy trash-lungings. A band apparently in search of a new dialect (while drawing on assorted shredded utterances from Krautrock, Beefheart, ‘90s rave or ‘80s arsequake) a typical TVV track can be a bizarre collage of muffled falsetto wails and feedback drones, of layered tribal toms and analogue-synth bass-farts, of approaching-horns guitar shapes; all of which is cunningly and immediately sculpted for maximum enigmatic impact, rather than being tossed out of the speakers for someone else to sweep up.




 

In London, Nargile is playing a double header gig with Heather Leigh. One of the most unconventional pedal steel guitarists in contemporary music, Heather belies her traditional country music heritage (a West Virginia birth, a descent from coal miners) and instead reinvents both her instrument and her voice as a conduit for strange and ghostly improvisations. Aided by cruel amplifier tones and strange, skittering, instinctive hand techniques, her compositions emerge like spectral possessions of strings, pedals, larynx and language. Often touching on themes of trauma, abuse and hidden, subjective experience, Heather’s eerie and disturbing work has already led her to collaborations with Peter Brötzmann, Jandek, Thurston Moore and plenty of others since her emergence in the 1990s.




 
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August also sees the start of Borderless, a delightfully rambling live music series at Battersea Arts Centre running roughly parallel to the Olympic Games in Rio. Run in collaboration with GOAT Music (set up last year by former Roundhouse music bosses David Gaydon and Lou Birkett) it aim to showcase “the UK’s best homegrown talent and unique artists from around the globe, in the intimate and beautiful setting of the Council Chamber… Borderless will provide an alternative cross-cultural celebration. Samba to tropical beats, dance to Afrobeat legends, skank to reggae and let the new generation of jazz take you to another place. Break down the borders and shuffle your feet to global rhythms to hear the biggest tunes from all over the planet. We’ll also provide a platform for the freshest artists and exciting talent currently taking the UK by storm. Hear the artists sound tracking the underground scene, dominating the airwaves and paving the way for the alternative UK music scene.”

Glad to hear it. Bring it on. What do you have?

GOAT Music and Battersea Arts Centre present:
Borderless: Hackney Colliery Band + Bring Your Own Brass
Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, Battersea, London, SW11 5TN, England
Tuesday 2nd August 2016, 8.00pm
information

Hearing about Hackney Colliery Band initially caught me between hackles and chuckles. For a moment, I thought it was about taking the piss out of a great and still-living industrial British art form while cynically attempting to replace it. After all, when there are still genuine colliery bands maintaining the tradition across old mining heartlands from Tyneside to Derbyshire, Shropshire to Leicestershire and the Rhondda Valley (and dotted across the Yorkshire pitscape from Grimethorpe to Dinnington, Frickley to Queensbury) why would you want to substitute them with a slick London parody? On the other hand, my sense of the absurd soon kicked in – since Hackney’s been sprouting all kinds of cartoonish artisan features for the past decade (from craft beer to boutique muffins and shoes), why not an ersatz coal mine?

As it happens, HCB have got little to do with any of this. The name’s a little dab of post-modern British showbiz and the band (excellent, by the way) don’t stick to the grand dignity and mournfulness of colliery music, being more of an omnivorous brass beast immersed in and rejigging a variety of horn-party traditions from jazz, r&b, funk and others, including New Orleans tunes from both fun and funerals. Much the same can be said of the support act, Bring Your Own Brass – a band who, as “up-and-coming brass hip-hop ripsnorters”, have been known to parp out a Rakim cover or two. If this makes them sounds like a novelty act, they aren’t. Sound and vision reveal them to be well-scrubbed, well-studied white disciples of a wide span of styles, clambering over Afrobeat, rap, funk and marching-band ideas with head-bopping panache.

Recently, both bands seem to have cornered the market in boutique festivals and showbiz event (between them they’ve got Olympic Games and Brit/Mercury award appearances under their belts, as well as shows at Ally Pally, with slots at Wilderness, Stow and Meatopia to come later in August for BYOB and a hefty European tour for HCB). HCB’s previous set at the MOBO awards suggests that they can impress at a formal roots level as well, unless it was a case of contacts trumping authenticity. Just as long as bands like these aren’t crowding out bands like Kokoroko; although BYOB’s teamup with Bristolian rapper and slam poet Solomon O.B (see below) suggests that, as far as fellow musicians are concerned, there aren’t any practical or philosophical problems.



 

March 2016 – upcoming gigs – pianos all over the world for Piano Day 2016

27 Mar

Piano Day, 2016

Following the previous post’s coverage of the Daylight Music prelude for Piano Day, here’s all of the information that I could gather up about the main event, which is taking place all around the world on Monday 28th March.

This is the second Piano Day, following its very successful launch in 2015 by Berlin-based pianist and piano specialist Nils Frahm as a day for musical unity. As Nils puts it: “why does the world need a Piano Day? For many reasons, but mostly because it doesn’t hurt to celebrate the piano and everything around it: performers, composers, piano builders, tuners, movers and most important, the listener.” For anyone who plays, or loves, or has wrestled with the wood-strings-felt-and-levers monster, or its digital facsimiles, this is a day for you.

The event kicks off in Germany with a piano marathon…

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Justė Survilaitė presents:
Piano Day | Berlin: ‘24 Hours Piano Non-Stop Session’
Michelberger Hotel, Warschauerstrasse 39/40, 10243 Berlin, Germany
Sunday 27th March 2016, midnight, to Monday 28th March 2016, midnight
more information

Twenty-four pianists play through a full twenty-four hour period, beginning at midnight on Sunday 27th March, and going all the way through into Monday, finishing at midnight on the 28th.

The contributors come from the wide range of creative musicians who make their home in, or are drawn to, the energised art scene of contemporary Berlin; and represent its cultural breadth. There are classical players (Víkingur Ólafsson, Marina Baranova); there are jazz and improv players (Declan Forde, Jo Junghanss, Rieko Okuda, Marco Maria and Amine Mesnaoui, the Moroccan jazz/New Music electric pianist who specialises in playing inside his Fender Rhodes). There are musicians from the dance scene – techno star/DJ/label boss Lucio Aquilina, electronica producer-composer Florestano (whose musical ideas all start on “an old black piano”) and Sonar Kollectiv mainstay Arnold Kasar (whose work is informed by dance music, Arthur Russell and prepared piano).

Extra genre spice is added by English singer-songwriter and crossover multidiscipline musician Tom Adams, Anglo-Czech prodigy Emika (whose work spans from dubstep to classical), , Claudio Donzelli of folk trio Mighty Oaks, Doron Burstein (the composer/player behind the ‘Don’t Shoot the Pianist’ speakeasy event at Berlin’s Fahimi Bar) and Eike Schulz (who as well as being a pianist is one of the three scriptwriters behind recent one-take heist film ‘Victoria’) Other contributors to the day are more difficult for me to track and pin down from five hundred miles away (Kolja Ulbrich, Ellas, Janek Prachta, Christian Badzura, Solaris 4.1, Susann Helm) and even more special guests are promised for the twenty-four hour stint.


 

In addition, there’s a second associated Berlin event:

Raw Classic Podium presents:
Raw Classic Podium #1, featuring Martin Kohlstedt
Art Loft Berlin, Gerichtstrasse 23, 13347 Berlin, Germany
Monday 28th March 2016, 6.00pm
more information

“When is something old actually something new? Does music evolve in the imagination of the composer, in the hands of the musician or the listener’s head? And do these questions have a practical application in the concert hall?

On Piano Day, composer Frieder Nagel and Jochen Küpper (founder of Stattbad) will launch their new discussion series ‘Raw Classic Podium’, which offers the public the opportunity to enjoy art unpolished – together with selected artists from the neoclassical scene. Martin Kohlstedt opens the new series of events with an insight into his creative process. The idea of the finished work is abandoned – a workshop starts. Working on techniques of modular composition, the pianist draws the audience into his activity. One way or another, expect an intense experience.”

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There are three concerts in England (all of which are in London):

Alev Lenz presents:
Piano Day | London: Alev Lenz + Lucy Claire + Yuri Kondo + Marie Schreer
One Good Deed Today, 73 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8AG, England
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.00pm
– free event – more information

“Last year, Alev Lenz and Lucy Claire brought us two new Piano Day tunes fresh from Alev’s London studio. This year the two have decided to celebrate Piano Day with a special acoustic piano concert together with Yuri Kono and Marie Schreer. You will not only be able to hear the four women’s collaborative tracks premiered at the celebration (all of which you will be able to find on Lucy Claire’s new EP, ‘Collaborations No. 2’), but also short solo sets from all four artists: and you will have the opportunity to buy their respective works (including the brand-new EP) in a one-day-only special Piano Day pop-up shop.”

Float PR/Drowned in Sound/LateNightTales present:
Piano Day | London: Anna Rose Carter + Ed Harcourt + Lily Hunter Green + Michael Salu + Robert Kaniepien + Felix Faire
De Montfort Suite @ Town Hall Hotel, Patriot Square, Bethnal Green London E2 9NF, England
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.00pm
– more information here and here

“Float PR, the Drowned In Sound webzine and the Late Night Tales label team up for an evening of piano, art, film and honey.

Anna Rose Carter (the modern classical/ambient/minimalist pianist who’s one half of Moon Ate The Dark, in which her piano is fed through guitar signal processors and amplifiers by Christopher Brett Bailey) will perform a solo piano set made up of new compositions, existing pieces and works in progress. Chamber pop singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ed Harcourt will premiere some piano version of new material from his forthcoming seventh album, set for release later this year. Artist and musician Lily Hunter Green (accompanied by violinist Tom Moore) will perform on the piano against a backdrop of bee recordings. She will also present to the audience how her project ‘Bee Composed’ (which saw her placing a beehive inside a piano) has helped increase awareness of the declining bee population.

Musician and creative coder Felix Faire (whose work explores embodied and synaesthetic experiences of music, space and image through the media of light, sound and code) will presents a real-time audio-visual performance using the ROLI Seaboard RISE, a radically new musical instrument that reimagines the piano keyboard as a soft, continuous surface and puts expression back at the player’s fingertips. (Felix’s previous work with ROLI technologies has included a Oskar Fischinger-inspired ROLI Seaboard GRAND ‘motion experiment’ designed to audio-visually illustrate the instrument’s delicate sensitivity and continuous expression: every nuanced sound created by contact with the Seaboard was translated into a swirling plume of ink, responding directly to the haptic expression of the performer).

In addition, Michael Salu (an award-winning creative director, writer and visual artist) will present the exclusive first play of ‘Nocturnes’ (a specially commissioned short film created for Piano Day) and artist Robert Kaniepien (a.k.a. R.K. Polak) will create a bespoke piece of art across the evening on a 160cm x 160cm canvas using oil pastels, acrylic, enamel and pencil (a continuation of his ‘Tendencies’ series).”

Erased Tapes Records presents:
Piano Day | London: Peter Broderick + Michael Price & Peter Gregson + Douglas Dare
The Courtyard Theatre, 40 Pitfield Street, Hoxton, London, N1 6EU, England
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.00pm
more information

An intimate evening of piano performances from Erased Tapes artists and associates, with experimental folk musician and multiple collaborator Peter Broderick, film and television composer Michael Price (in duet with cellist Peter Gregson), and piano/glitch singer-songwriter Douglas Dare. All proceeds raised will go towards the donation of a piano for the World Heart Beat Music Academy, an organisation whose mission is to provide music training and mentorship to disadvantaged youth in London.

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Across the Channel, there are two concerts in France…

Souffle Collectif & Les Rendez-vous Contemporains de Saint Merry present:
Piano Day | Paris: Alvise Sinivia & Sabine Rivière + Melaine Dalibert + Frederic Blondy + Marina Voznyuk + J.G. Matthews
Église Saint-Merri, 76 Rue de la Verrerie, 4e, Paris, France
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

Église Saint-Merri will host a dance-and-piano performance by Alvise Sinivia and Sabine Rivière (“Le son n’a pas de jambes sur lesquelles se tenir’, or ‘The sound has no legs on which to stand’); a program of American minimalists performed by Melaine Dalibert (which may also include her own ‘Cortège à Véra Molnar’); piano improvisations by Frederic Blondy and Alvise Sinivia (one piano apparently “suspended in the air”, the other “on the ground”) and Marina Voznyuk of Murailles; plus ‘Capricorn’ a poetry-and-piano performance by J.G. Matthews.


 

La Route Du Rock Booking presents:
Piano Day | Nantes: T. Beach + Rasim Biyikli
Le Lieu Unique, 2 quai Ferdinand Favre, Nantes 44000, France
Monday 28th March 2016, 4.00pm
– free event – more information

T.Beach is the Lopez sisters (two voice, four hands) who play a piano music of water and love, inspired by the poetry of beaches and featuring recreational and melancholic French-language songs set to primitive rhythms.

A self-taught multi-instrumentalist, Rasim Biyikli creates free-spirited music in multiple formats for film, art installations, software and so on. He is the founder of the research studio and multi-media resource center Studio d’en Ô, and – as a pianist – has worked and collaborated on many albums. He is best known for his project Man, which sits at the crossroads of pop, jazz, contemporary and electronic music (in the tradition of composers such as Brian Eno, Yann Tiersen, Angelo Badalamenti and Ennio Morricone).

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Canada offers something virtual…

event-20160328-pianoday-jmblais

Piano Day | Montreal: Jean-Michel Blais
Online (details tbc)
Monday 28th March 2016
more information tbc on Facebook

In a special virtual concert (recorded live in Radio Canada/CBC Music’s Studio 211) Montreal-based pianist Jean-Michel Blais will perform compositions from his forthcoming debut album ’II’(out on Arts & Crafts Records on 8th April), a collection of piano pieces and textures influenced by Erik Satie, Lubomyr Melnyk and Philip Glass and incorporating subtle touches of electronics and field recordings.


 

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There’s also an event in Israel…

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Piano Day & The Zone present:
Piano Day | Tel Aviv-Jaffa: Maya Dunietz + Deejay Shuzin + Tomer Bar + Dani Gottfried + Shlomo Gronich + Yonatan Daskal
Haezor/The Zone, Harechev 13, 67771 Tel Aviv, Israel
Monday 28th March 2016, 6.00pm
more information (in Hebrew)

The Israel event for Piano Day features two jazz pianists separated by sixty years but linked by their musical enthusiasm (veteran and Red Sea Jazz Festival founder Dani Gottfried and the up-and-coming Tomer Bar), Yonatan Daskal (keyboard player for Castle In Time Orchestra, Quarter To Africa and many more) and a contribution by Deejay Shuzin.

In addition, there are performances by two of the broadest and most industrious of Israeli musical talents – Shlomo Gronich, a gifted pianist who, for four decades, has composed and delivered pop songs, soundtracks, television and dance music and orchestral/choral work (from a palette of jazz, classical, soul, prog rock and original Israeli songs, and working with a host of collaborators of all ages and backgrounds); and his latterday parallel Maya Dunietz (whose work covers and excels within a remarkably broad range of musical styles and approaches – free jazz, art rock, punk, polka, “circus-core” and classical; plus choral conducting, stints with the bands Eatliz, Habiluim, The Midnight Peacocks and the creation of sound installations).

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There are two very different concerts taking place in Australia…

Piano Day | Brisbane: Alistair Noble + Momo
Private house concert, Brisbane, Australia
Monday 28th March 2016, 6.00pm
more information – direct booking here

“Brisbane-based pianists and composers Alistair Noble and Momo Hamada will host an intimate living-room concert, playing their own pieces as well as some by Nils Frahm. Organic vegan finger food and selected teas will be provided.”

Bennetts Lane Jazz Club presents:
Piano Day | Melbourne: Luke Howard + Nat Bartsch + Timothy Coghill + Timothy Stevens
Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, 25 Bennetts Lane, Melbourne, 30000 Australia
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.00pm
– pay-what-you-like – more information

“A special evening of solo performances by Melbourne-born jazz pianist and composer Luke Howard and his friends: trio leaders and soloists Nat Bartsch and Tim Stevens, plus instrumental scenic-pop composer Timothy Coghill. They’ll be playing their own compositions, including several new works of Nat’s. You will also have an opportunity to hear a few of Luke’s favourite compositions by Nils Frahm, Max Richter and Nico Muhly. Entry is by donation with all proceeds to Entertainment Assist, supporting the mental health of Australian entertainment industry workers.”

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Lithuania and Slovenia are providing one concert each…

event-20160328-pianoday-vilnius

LOFTAS presents:
Piano Day | Vilnius: Hauschka
Vilnius Art Factory & LOFTAS Club, Švitrigailos str. 29, Naujamiestis, Vilnius, Lithuania
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

LOFTAS will host a performance by German pianist Volker Bertlemann, better known as Hauschka, an experimental/pop crossover musician who’s also one of the most recognizable twentiy-first century proponents of prepared piano.

Kino Šiška presents:
Piano Day | Ljubljana: Bowrain + Nace Slak
Kino Šiška, Trg Prekomorskih Brigad 3, Ljubljana
Monday 28th March 2016, 8.00pm
more information

Kino Šiška is hosting an exclusive solo piano perfomance by Bowrain, a.k.a. Tine Grgurevič, whose music usually incorporates jazz piano, modern classical elements, electronic beats and textures, and cunning uses of cultural and philosophical sampling. The evening will be opened by Nace Slak, a 17-year-old student at the Conservatory for Music and Ballet Ljubljana, who will perform piano pieces by Nils Frahm.

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Finally, there’s a show in Japan…

Sonorium/ Kitchen Label presents:
Piano Day | Tokyo: Haruka Nakamura Duo/Trio
Sonorium, 3-53-16, Suginami-ku, 168-0063 Tokyo, Japan
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

The Piano Day celebration in Tokyo will host a show by pianist Haruka Nakamura playing in duo/trio setups with two other members of his regular ensemble (Akira Uchida on saxophone and Isao Saito on percussion).

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If all of this is making you feel a little left out – perhaps your country or city isn’t represented, or perhaps you’re feeling that you might have put something together yourself – then what’s stopping you? This the day when you don’t have to walk past that piano on the street, or in your workplace, or even gathering dust in your home. This is the day when you can strum a stray melody, pick out a single note, or indulge yourself with a full performance of anything at all, and know that you’ll be in touch with all kinds of players (from the remarkable to the casual) across the globe. And – if you missed the day altogether and are reading this too late, head back up and check out some of those links. Pianos everywhere. If I have a bit of time, I’ll flesh them out with a few more.

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Coming up soon… a look at gigs in early April…
 

The Manchester Jazz Festival (31st July to 9th August)

31 Jul

One of the reasons that I’ve been posting so many concert previews recently is simply that (being mostly homebound at the moment) I miss going to gigs. Looking at the lineup and scope of the 2015 Manchester Jazz Festival (which starts today and runs rampant for ten days through until 9th August) reminds me that not only do I regret not attending the wealth of music that takes place here in London, but that I miss more freewheeling days of music elsewhere. Discovering unexpected, treasurable bands at random while on holiday in Brugge, for instance; or immersing myself in a week of concerts and more in Edinburgh or Leeds (such as the one I reviewed here, over a decade ago.)

We know that, as a British pop and dance city, Manchester punches well above its weight. Despite a bubbling undercurrent of improvised music, its reputation as a jazz town is hazier…. or, more probably, I’m just ignorant. The Festival’s been going for twenty years, long enough to gain enough gravity to generate its own traditions. (One such is ‘Surroundings’,  a longer-form ensemble piece by Salford composer Neil Yates. Commissioned for the festival in 2010, it seems to have become the event’s unofficial signature – this year, it’s being revisited as a quartet performance in the Central Library Reading Room.)

Even a quick sift through this year’s programme reveals a jazz party that any city would be proud of – diverse, inclusive, inviting and multi-levelled, an exciting noise ranging from the stately to the vividly scraggled and all the better for it.  With many tickets going at only four pounds, (with a ten-pound all-events daily ticket and free-entry deals if you stump up as a low-level event sponsor), they could hardly have made it any more inviting to the casual walker-upper. Excuse me for a moment while I strip-mine press releases and YouTube, and check Soundcloud pages and Bandcamp links.

Starting with the higher-end, bigger name events…  Acclaimed Blue Note pianist Robert Glasper slips away from his experimentations with latterday R’n’B to get back to basics with an acoustic trio;  John Surman re-teams with the Trans4mation String Quartet to revive the thoughtful, tidally-deep music from his ‘Coruscating’ and ‘The Spaces in Between’ albums. Norma Winstone, Klaus Gesing and Glauco Venier bring along their trans-European project DistancesPartisans bring their transatlantic swing storm; Christine Tobin  her ‘Thousand Kisses Deep’ jazzification of Leonard Cohen songs. French Jazz Musician of the Year Airelle Besson makes an appearance with her Quartet for a set of “gently experimental songs animated by heartfelt lyrics, plaintive melodies and rolling harmonies.” backed with pinballing rhythms and punchy countersyncopations.

There are heavyweight two-headed summit performances by acclaimed British jazz talents – one by frequent quartet buddies Mike Walker and Gwilym Simcock, another by the more recent pairing of Tori Freestone and Alcyona Mick.  Two further British scene fast risers – Stuart McCallum and Alice Zawadzki – bring string-enhanced performances of ongoing projects (the former offering contemporary soul jazz and bass-heavy electronica with surprise guest singers, the latter a fantastical Mancunian song cycle influenced by various shades of love and fairytale).

There are also several of those gentler, more literate projects which seem to blossom best in a festival atmosphere away from a hot core of gutsy brass.  Andrew Woodhead and Holly Thomas’ Snapdragon trio specialize in chilled, ethereal song-settings of literature and poetry (Larkin and Bukowski-inspired) and bursts of vocalese. Mark Pringle‘s A Moveable Feast mates orchestral strings with a bold horn and rhythm section to explore “themes of wildlife, literature and city chaos.”  The “fractured Anglicana” of Hugh Nankivell’s multi-instrumental/four-part vocal quartet Natural Causes means that they perform “curious compositions with  improbable but poignant texts” including “psychedelic lullabies, pinprick-precise ballads, unpredictable group improvisation and brotherly harmony across the board”, and music which draws on classic and contemporary art pop (Robert Wyatt, XTC and Björk) as much as it does on jazz sources.

Elsewhere, much of the polyglot diversity of jazz today is celebrated. The Cuban tradition is represented by the Pepe Rivero Trio and Orquesta Timbala; the Congolese by Eddy Tshepe Tshepela‘s Afrika Jazz. Central and South American ideas are brought along by Agua Pasa (who, with  Dudley Nesbit’s steel pan project Pan Jumby,  also touch on the Caribbean).  The Quarry Hillbillies (a teaming of Ulrich Elbracht, Ed Jones, Jamil Sheriff) from European contemporary jazz, while the frenetic whirl of Eastern European folk elements are covered by Makanitza.  The Gorka Benítez Trio move between Basque-flavoured small group jazz and compelling free-form impressionism. David Austin Grey’s Hansu-Tori ensemble is inspired by natural, elemental and cinematic” ideas, as well as a fascination with Eastern world culture.  Percussionist Felix Higginbottom’s Hans Prya  provides genre-hopping jazz-dance and Jim Molyneux’s Glowrogues favour funk and hip-hop flavoured pieces. Trumpeter Lily Carassik‘s fusion group Yesa Sikyi take ideas from the ’50s and blend them with popular standards and soul arrangements; while The Stretch Trio include glossier elements from ’70s jazz rock, progressive rock and ’80s pop along with sinuous gusts of wind synth.

Those who prefer classic jazz – more traditional by-the-book American styles – might prefer Russell Henderson and Jamie Taylor’s Ellington-and-Strayhorn tribute ‘The Intimacy Of The Blues’, or the Dan Whieldon Trio‘s salute to Gershwin. The Dave Kane Quartet take inspiration from the knottier ambitions of Charles Mingus, John Zorn and Eric Dolphy. Two groups of students from the Royal Northern College of Music provide live celebrations of the history which they’ve been learning – the James Girling Quintet  spans jazz, blues and funk from New Orleans roots through to the 1960s, while the Nick Conn Octet (a self-described “trombone choir”) interweaves re-arranged jazz classics with original material.

Fans of New Orleans jazz can check out genuine New Orleaners The Session (who offer a past-present take on their hometown’s music), or look out for the street sounds of the New York Brass Band (actually from old York, the cheeky buggers) or see how the Riot Jazz Brass Band dust up old New Orleans sounds with dancefloor, dubstep and drum-and-bass incursions. Hot jazz/Gypsy/jazz manouche aficionados can go for the loving recreations of 52 Skidoo (who promise you prohibition speakeasies, rent parties and Tin Pan Alley) or for Gypsies Of Bohemia, who manouche-ify latterday pop songs such as Heart Of Glass, Toxic and Hot In Herre. (Being Mancunian, they also do This Charming Man – I’ll bet that that high-life opening riff translates pretty well).

Of course, much of the fun of a jazz festival involves catching a lesser-known, or even unknown, band carving away at the edge, furiously discovering – and there are plenty of those here. Since they drew me into covering the festival in the first place, I’m going to put a particular word in for Jon Thorne’s Sunshine Brothers (playing at Matt & Phreds on 4th August) in which the double bass/laptop-wielding Jon teams up with drummer Rob Turner (of Blue Note-signed breakbeat jazz electronicists GoGo Penguin) and looping poly-genre bass guitarist Steve Lawson (a ‘Misfit City’ regular) for “a cutting-edge trio of genre-defying musicians mixing jazz, improvisation, electronic and filmic soundscapes to euphoric effect, evoking sounds far removed from their bass origins.”

However, you could just as easily catch a full performance by GoGo Penguin themselves; or by Lauren Kinsella’s Blue-Eyed Hawk, who offer “art-rock, jazz and electronic soundworlds: imaginative and emotive, from pindrop to powerhouse.” The Madwort Saxophone Quartet play intricate four-part math-jazz. “Power-jazz commando team” Taupe (a triple-city trio from Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh) punch around themes from jazz, hip hop and heavy metal. Craig Scott’s Lobotomy seem determined to take the cake for upfront experimental exhilaration this time around, delivering shout-outs to John Cage, Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, proclaiming a performance in which “experimental jazz rubs shoulders with electronica and DIY alternative rock in a bubbling cauldron of live and recorded sounds” and promising to sample and reconstruction their own improvisations live on stage.  There’ll also be a improvised summit involving bands associated with Manchester’s Efpi Records and Paris’ Onze Heures Onze collective.

One way into discovery is to take advantage of the free showcases for emerging bands. Care of the BBC’s ‘Jazz On 3’, London offers three bands – Nérija ( the all-female creative septet from the Tomorrow’s Warriors jazz school), the award-winning piano jazz of the Ashley Henry Trio and the decidedly psychedelic Phaze Theory (a quartet of drums, tuba, voice and guitar dedicated to “exploring the vastness of the musical cosmos”).

But perhaps it’s Jazz North’s Northern Line series that you should be checking out, showcasing bands from the north and the Midlands. Manchester offers the Iain Dixon/Les Chisnall Duo (whose repertoire of self-defined standards stretches from Messaien to Gracie Fields) and the John Bailey Quintet  (guitar-led, and similarly inspired by twentieth century classical music). Newcastle provides barrel-house blues and ballads from The Lindsay Hannon Plus and the tricky free jazz/folk/rock/dancefloor entwinings of the Graeme Wilson Quartet. Lancaster and Liverpool provide one act apiece – Andrew Grew’s “total improvisers” The Grew Quartet and the “gothic bebop” of Blind Monk Trio, who claim to fuse the spirit of Thelonius Monk with Persian traditional music and the heavy-rock attitude of Led Zeppelin and Nirvana’s heavy-rock attitude.

However, it’s Leeds (still underrated as a musical powerhouse despite the world-class output of its music college and the vigorous inventiveness of its bands) which dominates the Northern Line. As well as providing the previously-mentioned Pan Jumby, Leeds brings the Portuguese/African/Latin  and Indian song-fusions of Manjula, the Django Reinhardt swing of the Matt Holborn Quartet, Cameron Vale‘s ferociously energetic melange of jazz, metal, electronica, Afrobeat and Klezmer and the semi-electric “extreme, eerie to comic” improvisations of Tipping Point (featuring perpetual bad-boy pianist Matthew Bourne).  Friendly rivalry aside, there’s also co-operation: Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool all join forces in The Bugalu Foundation for a Latin barrio take on northern soul.

Around all of this jazz there’s the usual happy agglomeration of related music – not quite jazz in itself, but possibly sharing a drink or a roll-up somewhere along the way. The festival covers various popular outcropping such as soul (in assorted Northern, jazz and diva forms courtesy of The Juggernaut Love Band, Terry Shaltiel & The Soultroopers, Charlie Cooper & The CCs) but also ’60s/‘70s funk (Buffalo Brothers), ’70s Afrobeat and Ethiopian pop (Kalakuta), ska (Baked à la Ska) and mbalax (Mamadou & The Super Libidor Band). There’s even an alt-country act (Stevie Williams & The Most Wanted Band) sneaking in at the back door. As for rock’n’roll/folk/reggae/swing scavengers The Flat Cap 3… well, for starters, there’s only two of them, so you can be dubious about anything else you might read, but don’t let that put you off.

Three female songwriters are also bringing their bands, coming from a folk or world music zone and overlapping into jazz. Kirsty McGee leads her Hobopop Collective through a “joyful, dirty” sound drawing from gospel, blues and a collection of found instruments (including musical saw, waterphone, Humber hubcaps and metal buckets). The constantly shifting song landscapes of the Zoe Kyoti Trio draw from their leader’s Armenian and Greek heritage (as well as Cajun, European and Indian ideas). Saluting home-brewed British polyculture, Shama Rahman‘s ensemble explore her London home, her Bangladeshi roots, and her childhood memories of Middle Eastern desert landscapes in a “sitar,stories and song” melange of  jazz-inspired improvisation, classically-inspired melodies and folk-inspired storytelling accompanied by energetic rhythms of swing, funk, hip hop, bossa nova and drum’n’bass.

For parents of very young children, needing to balance a jazz fix with family responsibilities, there are a couple of fully interactive kids’ events with activities, storytelling and improvisations.  The Living Story Music Ensemble and illustrator Ann Gilligan collaborate on ‘I Have A Duck Who Can Roar’; the blues-and-roots-tinged Hillary Step Quartet work with storyteller Ursula Holden Gill and dancers from The Dalcroze Society for ‘How Monkey Found His Swing’. Once the kids are attended to, there are still interactive events for the grown-ups, whether you’re talking about the all-in jazz vinyl night, the mixed-genre dj sets by Mr Scruff, Franny Eubanks‘ open-door blues jam or (for the more technologically inquisitive)  Rodrigo Constanzo‘s showcasing of his dfscore software. The latter’s a creative music tool, cueing improvisers via graphical, visual and written clues: on this occasion, anyone with an instrument and a connectible smartphone/tablet/pad should be able to roll up and join in with the roar, joining some leading improvisers in performing music in tandem with the system.

For those remaining soundclips which I’ve not already snatched and pasted, visit the MJF Soundcloud page here … but better yet, if you’re anywhere near Manchester over the next few weeks, drop in at the festival (it’s hard to miss, considering that it’s not just hiding behind club doors but has effectively taken over the town’s main square for a fortnight). Seeing something this impressive light up and roll on fills me with delight – even if on this occasion I’m also filled with rue at not being able to go myself.  But never mind me…

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