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October/November 2016 – upcoming gigs – a European tour for string trio improvisers In The Sea (25th October to 23rd November)

21 Oct

From late October to late November, improvising string trio In The Sea are out on a European tour taking in the Netherlands, England, Scotland, France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria.

Comprising three French-Canadian musicians – veteran cellist and singer/ranter Tristan Honsinger, double bass player Nicolas Caloia and violinist Joshua Zubot – their music’s a raucous and brainy mashing and grinding of box-battering extended classical techniques, transmigrated hot jazz swing, jaunty folk dances and texts declaimed in conversational squawks. It’s full of both swarming bow torture and tunefulness, continually flickering over the line between impetuous noise and structured, harmonious discipline: something fostered and nurtured by the enthusiastic understanding running between all three players.


Information on the tour dates is variable (some of it’s only up in sketchy details right now) but here’s what I have at time of posting:

  • Oorsprong @ Plantagedok, Dokzaal, Plantage Doklaan 8-12, 1018 CM Amsterdam, Netherlands, Monday 24th October 2016, 7.00pm
  • The Horse Improv Club @ IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England, Tuesday 25th October 2016, 8.00pm (with Adam Bohman/Adrian Northover/Hutch Demouilpied/Sue Lynch)information
  • Safehouse @ The Verdict, 159 Edward Street, Brighton, BN2 0JB, England, Wednesday 26th October 2016, 8.00pm (with Gus Garside/James Parsons + The Wildcard Quartet)– information here and here
  • Xposed Club @ Francis Close Hall, University of Gloucestershire, Swindon Road, Cheltenham, GL50 4AZ, England, Friday 28th October 2016, 8.00pm (with Mike Adcock & Pete Robson)information
  • The Old Hairdressers, 23 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 6PH, Scotland, Saturday 29th October 2016, 8.00pm (with Bravest Boat + Richard Youngs)information
  • Sproggits @ Wharf Chambers, 23-25 Wharf Street, Leeds, LS2 7EQ, England, Monday 31st October 2016, 8.00pm
  • Fizzle @ The Lamp Tavern, Barford Street, Birmingham, B5 6AH, England, Tuesday 1st November 2016, 7.30pm
  • Terminus, 7 Avenue Gare, 57200 Sarreguemines, France, Thursday 3rd November 2016
  • Off-Bar, Offenburgerstrasse 59, Basel 4057, Switzerland, Friday 4th November 2016
  • Jazzatelier Ulrichsberg, Badergasse 2, 4161 Ulrichsberg, Austria, Saturday 5th November 2016, 8.00pm
  • Misterioso Jazz Club @ Das Institut, Elisabethenstrasse 14a, 3. Stock, 8004 Zürich, Switzerland, Tuesday 8th November 2016, 8.00pm
  • La Nef, Rue Saint-Hubert 17, 2340 Le Noirmont, Switzerland, Thursday 10th November 2016
  • Cafè des Arts di Coucourda Luca, Via Principe Amedeo 33, 10123 Torino, Italy, Saturday 12th November 2016
  • Machito, Via Argentero 4/G Torino (piazza nizza), Torino, Italy, Sunday 13th November 2016
  • Musique Rayonnante @ Centro di Ricerca Musicale @ Angelica, Via San Vitale 63-67,40125 Bologna, Italy, Tuesday 15th November 2016, 8.30pm
  • Kulturforum Villach, Postgasse 6 9500 Villach, Austria, Thursday 17th November 2016
  • Hybrida, Tarcento, Italy, Friday 18th November 2016
  • Limmitationes @ Gasthaus Rudolf Pummer, 7561 Heiligenkreuz im Lafnitztal, Obere Hauptstraße 11, Lafnitztal, Austria, Saturday 19th November 2016, 7.00pm (with Trio 876 & Jean Demey)information
  • Fluc Praterstern 5, A-1020 Wien, Austria, Wednesday 23rd November 2016

There’s a little information about some of the support acts and bill sharers. In London and Brighton, there’ll be sets by what are effectively the house improv bands. At the Horse Improv Club, it’ll be the free array of Adam Bohman (amplified objects), Adrian Northover (sax/electronics), Hutch Demouilpied (trumpet/flute) and Sue Lynch (tenor sax/clarinet). At Safehouse, it’ll be the duo of Gus Garside (double bass and electronics) and drummer/percussionist James Parsons: there’ll also be a performance by The Wildcard Quartet, Safehouse’s usual four-piece of randomly selected names from the Brighton improv community. (For two Wildcard examples, see the murky video clip I’ve trawled up below, plus the rather more viewable one under that…)



 
At Cheltenham’s Xposed Club, In the Sea will be supported by the piano duo of Mike Adcock and Pete Robson. In Glasgow, they’re part of a three-act show – the other two acts being Glaswegian-Bradfordian exploratory collective Bravest Boat (longstanding guitar duo Stevie Jones and Jer Reid, plus viola player/singer Aby Vulliamy, trombonist George Murray and violinist Rafe Fitzpatrick) and the quixotic, master-of fuzzy-genre voyager Richard Youngs (whose list of collaborators and fellow-sparkers stretches from Jandek to Skullflower and Acid Mothers Temple, and whose work frequently features soft songs with avant-garde interruptions).



 
Later on in the tour – in the Austrian town of Lafnitztal, close to the Hungarian border – In The Sea will be playing on a bill with the “close, loose” trans-European Trio 876 (featuring Italian avant-jazz percussionist Marcello Magliocchi, Belgian total-voice artist Jean-Michel van Schouwburg and Swiss violin master Matthias Boss). For the latter, expect a quick, febrile and knowing shuffle of everything from structured tunes, mouth sputters, blind charges, yodelling, singing and elements from both “logic and fantasy”: in other words, a full gamut. Belgian double bassist Jean Demey will be guesting, rendering the trio a full quartet for this particular evening – but for original trio action, see below.


 

More London gigs, third week of November 2015 (16th to 22nd) – Baba Yaga’s Hut brings Josefin Öhrn & The Liberation + The Wharves + Mr Silla to the Shacklewell Arms; The Magic Band play Captain Beefheart at Under The Bridge; Annette Peacock plays Café Oto; Raf & O + Arhai + Lucy Claire at Whispers & Hurricanes; Guitar Journey Duet at Songs From The Cellar in Highgate; Lo Recordings bring Grasscut + Astronauts + Lilith Ai to Daylight Music

16 Nov

I’ve not got quite as many gigs to cover this time, but bear in mind that The End Festival is still happily raging in Crouch End this week (if it were a standalone concert, The End’s Feast of St Cecilia weird-folk afternoon would be taking pride of place here), as is the London Jazz Festival. As I’m also a little more squeezed for time than usual this week, there’ll be less personal reflection and much more press-release in the coverage of the gigs in this post. Sorry about that. I’ll opinionate a little more next time.

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First up, a Baba Yaga mid-week gig: the debut British show for Josefin Öhrn, who’s rapidly becoming a darling of the urban psychedelic crowd. With her band The Liberation, she creates a beautifully spacious, light touch sound: some Krautrock motorik, enough rock’n’roll minimalism to slip smoothly into the sweet spot between hypnotic and monotonous, a strident skullbone rattle-and-drone where it’s needed, and a repertoire of subtle sonic finessing (shimmer, backwards reverb, rises, rainbow tone curves, all of the ingredients precisely and skilfully placed). To cap it, there’s Josefin’s voice – as perfectly-judged as the rest of the instrumentation and as cool as a drink of iced milk on a parched day, floating in the ever-present thought-space between the band’s chassis and roof.

event-20151118-josefineohrn

Josefin Öhrn & The Liberation (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, Shacklewell, London, E8 2EB, UK, 8.00pm) – £7.00 – informationtickets

In an era in which “psychedelia” can often mean merely a grab-bag of influences from which wah-wah pedals and two-note riffs are dispensed as signifiers and signposts into a realm of easy accessibility as opposed to gateways to another dimension, it can be a rarity to come across a band who are genuinely fixated on creating alternate realities for the listener. Yet this is exactly how Stockholm’s Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation view their incandescent art, and it’s this sensibility that’s led to the kaleidoscopic splendour of their debut full-length for Rocket Recordings, ‘Horse Dance’. “It’s a continuum that flows beyond here and now, and psychedelic music seems to be a really powerful way to unveil those deeper oceans of being that are our true home,” reflects Josefin, who forms half the core of the band with Fredrik Joelson. The last twelve months have seem a dramatic rise to prominence for The Liberation (who take their band name from the Tibetan Book Of The Dead) with their EP ‘Diamond Waves’ leading to shows in their homeland with Goat and Les Big Byrd, a nomination for a Swedish Grammy as best newcomer, and rapturously received appearances at festivals like Roskilde.

These adventures have set the stage for a spectacular movement into the unknown from their earlier work. ‘Horse Dance’ is a razor-sharp collection of ditties that marry dreamlike radiance with hypnotic rhythmic drive, set alight by a prismatic experimental glow. It inhabits a realm in which a propulsive ’60s-tinged pop song like ‘Sunny Afternoon’ can be elevated skyward with krautrock-tinged repetition, dub echo and analogue curlicues alike, and one in which a Broadcast-style mantra like You Have Arrived can tap into a psychic lineage that stretches all the way from The United States Of America to Portishead’s ‘Third’. Yet whilst ghosts of the like of Laika, Cat’s Eyes and The Creatures may lurk in the darker recesses of these songs, this is a band paying no homage to bygone glories.

The Liberation cite a myriad influences in both their philosophical stance and their aesthetic, from 12th century iconoclasts like Milarepa to 20th century sonic voyagers like Catherine Ribeiro, and from Kandinsky’s abstract expressions of synaesthesia to the avant-jazz of Moondog. Yet at all times their transcendental extrapolations are married to icy and enticing melodic flourishes, making for a revitalising clash between the chic and the transcendental, and a sound as biting as it is beatific. “I definitely think that the human need for altered states – to see oneself from a bigger perspective – is a deep fundamental need,” Josefin elaborates. “We’ve been deprived of access to our full nature by a restrictive system where altered states may be the ultimate taboo.” With ‘Horse Dance’, Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation step into a world where all such restrictions and taboos are null and void, and this journey is already proving quite the spectacle to behold.

Dunes

Support comes from all-female rock trio The Wharves (whose resonant clear-voiced indie sound, with a stack of folk-pop harmony and a sheen of blurred fluidity, sometimes sounds like a raindrop on the verge of collapsing) and from Mr. Silla (the solo project from former múm member Sigurlaug Gísladóttir, who’s joined live by guitarist Tyler Ludwick of Princess Music). There will also be DJ-ing from Daun of Swedish space-rockers Flowers Must Die.

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To be honest, I’m expecting half of the committed freaks in town to be at this next gig; and to have bought their tickets months ago…

The Magic Band @ Under The Bridge, London, 20th November 2015

The Magic Band (Under the Bridge, Stamford Bridge, Fulham Road, Fulham, London, SW6 1HS, UK, Friday 20th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £20.70 – information here and heretickets

After a sold out Under The Bridge gig in 2013, The Magic Band are back! Sharing the vision of celebrating the music of the late Don Van Vliet – aka Captain Beefheart – the band re-visits the classic Beefheart tunes with renewed fervour.Fans of the Captain won’t, wouldn’t and couldn’t miss this! Avant-garde blues at its finest and most rambunctious!

Speaking for myself, the enjoyment of Beefheart’s particular, perverse genius is always marred by the appalling stories of how he maltreated his colleagues. In many respects the man’s life was in tune with mischievous American folk-hero mythology. Those stories of microphone-busting vocals and of teaching his musicians all of their skills from scratch fit happily into the grand tradition of the American liar, the itinerant teller of tall tales and outright whoppers. Still, as the years have gone by, and as the other stories have bled through (about Beefheart’s take-the-money-and-lie attitude, his theft of credit for all of his players’ skills and work, and especially the brutally entitled sadism and psychological warfare meted out to his musical serfs as the band wrung out the tunes) the shine and mystique has well and truly worn off the man. What’s left, as ever, is the music: that tangle of bloodshot rolling blare and skew-whiff insight, the stubborn blues limp and the wrong-angle harmony attacks, the unorthodox barbed hooks that have kept generations of musicians and listeners transfixed.

With the Captain himself dead and gone for five years, reduced to a baleful honk of memory in a speaker, it’s been down to those who played alongside him in the various Magic Bands – and who, in the long run, finally survived him – to regularly blow on the embers and revive the noise. Since the Magic Band’s first reformation in 2006, some of the original members have, for various reasons passed out of the lineup again (first Robert Williams and Gary Lucas; most recently, Denny Walley) but the group still features singer and multi-instrumentalist John “Drumbo” French and bass player Mark “Rockette Morton” Boston. For this gig they’re joined by their current roster of sympatico recruits: guitarist Eric Klerks, drummer Andrew Niven and the newest recruit, Walley’s replacement Max Kutner (a multi-instrumentalist known for his work with Mike Keneally and Oingo Boingo and with Zappa tributeers Grandmothers of Invention, as well as his own projects such as Evil Genius and The Royal US).

By all accounts, in spite of time and circumstance whittling away at the roster of original players, the band retains their magic (judge for yourselves from the clip below). For me what clinches it is that at least some of the right guys are finally being paid, both in cash on the nail and in the credit they’ve damn well earned.

(All right – I did find time and room for some opinionating…)

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On Friday (and on the following Monday), Annette Peacock – a great undersung pioneer of various strains of songwriting, jazz experiments and electronics, as well as being an anticipator of many of the intriguing trends in female-led art music of today – is playing a couple of shows at Café Oto.

Annette Peacock @ Café Oto, 20th & 23rd November 2015

Annette Peacock (Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, London, E8 3DL,UK, Friday November 20th & Monday November 23rd 2015, 8:00 PM) – £22.00-£30.00informationtickets for Fridaytickets for Monday

“We’re very excited to host the first OTO appearance – and first show in London for quite some time – from visionary composer and songwriter, Annette Peacock. Always ahead of her time, Peacock has influenced a huge array or genres whilst never letting herself be pinned down by one, resulting in a music that is as captivating as it is unique. This should be very special indeed.” – Café Oto press release

“Annette Peacock’s wondrous, immersive trailblaze across recorded music’s rich history has marveled the likes of David Bowie, Brian Eno and one-time collaborator Salvador Dalí. Peacock once jokingly told The Quietus she has been fighting her way back to reality ever since taking LSD at Timothy Leary’s Millbrook estate in the early 1960s. Her plunge into otherworldly sonic wellsprings made her one of the first artists to synthesize her own vocals, pioneering the realms of minimalism, free jazz, rap, classical music and psychedelic funk along the way. After Robert Moog gifted Peacock one of his elusive prototype-synthesizers, she started implementing the makeshift device into her already individualistic, free-form lingo of songwriting and composing. To hear music skip so radically across exotic new touchstones, who needs reality, right?” – ‘Le Guess Who’

“Annette Peacock is a stone cold original – an innovator, an outlier, authentically sui generis.” – John Doran, ‘The Quietus’

“Nothing prepares you for the howl of her searingly high notes spiralling up out of spooky organ chords and soul-brass riffs.” – John Fordham, ‘The Guardian’

“A pioneer of rap, live electronic music and synth-pop, Annette Peacock’s achievements are monumental.” – ‘Scarufi’

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A few months ago, I briefly covered folk/classical/pop fusion night Whispers & Hurricanes (the latest arm of the Chaos Theory Promotions mini-empire) and they’re back this week.

Whispers & Hurricanes @ The Sebright Arms, 20th November 2015

Raf & O + ArHai + Lucy Claire + guests (Whispers & Hurricanes @ The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green London, E2 9AG, UK, Friday November 20th 2015, 7:30pm) – £6.00 – informationtickets

After a wonderful launch in September, our newest night is back with inspired musicians who fuse traditional sounds with groundbreaking techniques in an evening of mesmeric triphop, folktronica, avant pop and contemporary classical electronics. Fans of Portishead, Bowie, Lamb, Bjork and Eric Satie will enjoy.

Raf & O are a duo from south-east London who are garnering widespread acclaim in the UK and Europe, creating a buzz via exciting performances of their uniquely detailed avant-pop and its vortex of live electronics, acoustic instruments and fragile, magnetic, strange lullabies. After supporting artists such as Faust and Little Annie Bandez, they were special guests in Richard Strange’s production for William S. Burroughs’ centenary at Queen Elizabeth Hall, and recently composed for the theatre play ‘That Woman’s Voice’ (a tribute to Jean Cocteau). Raf and O’s second album ‘Time Machine’ was named as one of ‘FACT Magazine’s Top 10 albums of 2014, with their “avant-bizarre” interpretation of David Bowie’s Lady Grinning Soul pricking the ear of Bowie’s pianist, Mike Garson (who praised their minimalist approach) and leading to appearances at two Memory Of A Free Festival concerts (re-stagings of the legendary Beckenham Free Festival organised by David Bowie and The Beckenham Arts Lab back in 1969). Tonight we’ll hear them perform music from their first two albums, as well as unheard music from their upcoming third album.

ArHai is an electronic Balkan folk duo, consisting of Serbian-born composer and singer Jovana Backovic and British multi-instrumentalist Adrian Lever. Their music is a fusion of electronic music and folk with medieval influences from both the Gaelic and Balkan traditions. Underlined with breathtaking visuals, Arhai breathes new life into the sounds of the Bulgarian 8-string tambura lute and hammered dulcimer (played by Adrian), blending them with Jovana’s ethereal vocals and electronic production. Their previous album ‘Eastern Roads’ is a must have. Tonight’s show celebrates the launch of their new website and the upcoming release of their single.

We also welcome back the brilliant composer Lucy Claire, who launched her beautiful ‘Collaborations’ EP with us last year. A soundscape artist and a contemporary classical composer with influences from the likes of Satie, Peter Broderick and Björk, Lucy composes music with a very organic heart to it and in a style so unique and diverse that it has resulted in her performing to classical, electronic, acoustic and post-rock audiences, as well as live performances on BBC London’s breakfast show and BBC6 Music. Her sound initially seems soft and ambient, but reveals a defiant spirit and gentle force breaking its way through. This evening we will see her perform new collaborative works with some special guests, some of whom you may know already.

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It’s always nice to hail a new music night, especially one that’s only a short stroll from your own front door. In the Archway cutting, just up the road from the current Misfit City HQ, Songs From The Cellar have begun to fill a café basement with sound: next week it’s an investigation of antique popular songs, but this week it’s guitar instrumentals…

Guitar Journey Duet (Songs From The Cellar @ Zelas Cafe, 216 Archway Road, London, N6 5AX, UK, Friday 20th November 2015, 8.00pm) – £8.00 – information – tickets on the door

Songs From The Cellar, 20th November 2015Guitar Journey Duet is a team-up between two leading London cross-disciplinary guitarists – British player Jonny Phillips (a member of Oriole and F-ire Collective) and Sardinian-born Giorgio Serci (whose twenty years of recordings, collaborations and performance has included work with Antonio Forcione, Eduardo Niebla, Denys Baptiste and Shirley Bassey).

Between them Jonny and Giorgio cover jazz, classical, flamenco, samba, art rock, British folk and African jazz. They might be off to play Verdi at the Albert Hall barely a week after this concert, but what they get up to in this small Highgate basement might well be something completely different. The only clue as to what they’re playing is that they’re favouring Spanish guitars tonight, as they are in the video below.

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The last gig I’m listing for the week is another Daylight Music effort, bridging the acoustic and the electronic, the pastoral and the urban.

Daylight Music 207, 21st November 2015
Daylight Music 207 – 20 Years Of Lo Recordings: Grasscut + Astronauts + Lilith Ai (Union Chapel, Saturday 21st November 2015, 12.00pm–2.00pm) – free (£3.50 donation suggested) – information

Renowned for quality esoteric music, Shoreditch’s Lo Recordings has released music by Thurston Moore, Four Tet, Aphex Twin and others. Now the label is celebrating its 20th birthday with a special showcase at Daylight Music featuring label artists Grasscut, Astronauts and Lilith Ai.

Many accolades have been heaped on Grasscut, the teaming of Andrew Phillips (voice, keyboards, guitar) and Marcus O’Dair (keyboards, double bass) in a wide-thinking Brighton-based duo which encompasses electronica, classical minimalism and multi-media, and which draws inspiration from landscapes and history. Andrew, who writes and produces all Grasscut music, is also known for his soundtrack work for HBO, BBC Films and Channel 4: he has been nominated for an Emmy and shortlisted for an Ivor Novello. Marcus (who manages the band in addition to his instrumental contributions) also occupies himself with journalism for the Guardian and Financial, lecturing in Popular Music at Middlesex University and work as a broadcaster in particular on Stuart Maconie’s ‘Freakzone’: he is also the author of ‘Different Every Time: The Authorised Biography Of Robert Wyatt’. At this concert Grasscut will be playing music from their new album (and first for Lo Recordings), ‘Everyone Was A Bird’.

Astronauts is the solo project from Dan Carney (formerly of Dark Captain). Described by Sputnik Music as “often bleak and highly contemplative indie-folk”, according to Facebook, the project is mainly in the business of creating “ham-fisted bleep-folk neoliberal takedowns”. As with Grasscut, Dan’s interests and influences extend beyond making music: he is a qualified developmental psychologist with an interest in short-term memory development and in Williams and Down’s syndromes.

Lilith Ai is a new signing to Lo Recordings. A member of the Fight Like A Girl collective, she performs poignant tales of modern city living. Drawing from blues, folk and acoustic R’n’B, and dusted by subtle electronic shades and beats, Lilith’s songs show urban life through a clear lens which does not hesitate to reveal her own dark life experience.

 

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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