Tuesday 30 July 2013

Manchester Jazz Festival, Monday, 29 July 2013 - Times 4, European Sunrise

Times 4 
Festival Pavilion Teepee

The banners for MJF in the Festival Pavilion Teepee announce the inclusive nature of jazz..They figure a list of music categories that feed the broad stream of jazz, including 'pop' and ‘grunge’ and ‘urban’. At least ‘bebop’ (fifth down the list) has some accepted meaning in a jazz context. This well-intended initiative skirts around the major problem, which is how to overcome the negative associations of the j-word. My modest proposal would be to strike out ’jazz’ whenever it appears and substitute, say, ‘Acid Phwumba’. It has as much meaning as ‘urban’ and is a lot more fun. The 2014 Manchester Acid Phwumba Festival would really be worth going to see. 

This is essentially a marketing issue and may hold interest for students of linguistic philosophy. The point is, the music itself is in great shape.     

‘Folk’, too unfashionable to get a look-in on the banners, nevertheless provides the inspiration for Times 4, the group led by Ken Marley, who play to a packed Teepee on Monday afternoon. 

Neil Yates

It’s a supergroup of leaders - Neil Yates, the trumpeter who has made folk-jazz crossover his own; drummer Dave Hassell, the power behind Apitos; Munch Manship, veteran saxophonist of this parish - except, that is, for the leader. Ken Marley is a a stalwart timekeeper on bass, a  journeyman bassist, who plays standards behind the guest soloists at the monthly session at The Broadoak, amongst other venues. Today however, the Great American Songbook has been ditched in favour of what might be called the Great Northumbrian Minstrelsy. 

This is the great thing about MJF: it gives an outlet for musicians to realise cherished projects and provides a space for their most heartfelt personal music. 

Ken Marley

The first surprise is that the bass has taken backseat to a set of bagpipes. The tradition we’re concerned with here is the folk music of the British Isles, and it’s a joy to see these expert musicians transfer their skills from one idiom to another. So Neil Yates applies the distilled beauty he took from Miles to the rolls and turns of Celtic music. Munch Manship confines himself to flute for the pipe tunes. 

Munch Manship

The flute in folk is a bugbear of mine, actually. The solo flautist warbling arpeggios behind a singer is a cliche of the sixties Folk Revival. (It’s partly what makes Paddy On The Road, Christy Moore’s officially suppressed debut album, so unlistenable. But I digress.) Whereas Manship comprehensively rehabilitates the instrument, dovetailing and weaving in and out of simple melodies with the more complex harmonies of, ah, Acid Phwumba.  

Dave Hassell 

Dave Hassell, who has been known to sit in at the Oddfellows folk session (see dyverse, passim), uses the occasion to unveil some of unusual percussion accessories, including a fetching washboard cum tie. He clicks away with dancing counter-rhythms.

In Marley’s hands, the bagpipes and the bass serve the same underpinning function. There is no appreciable decline in charm and enjoyment when the band revert to bluesy hard bop. Now Manship reveals his mature style on tenor saxophone, which has the unaffected, heartbreaking, full lyricism of the greatest swing saxophonists. The pipes call for a last time, as a prelude for ‘Times Up’, a booting exercise in hard bop. 

We can call off the hunt for the perfect folk-jazz synthesis. It hasn’t been done so well since the heyday of Pentangle. 

European Sunrise
Royal Northern College of Music

I don’t think the majority of the audience know what to expect from the event billed as Take Five: Europe Live!: European Sunrise. A pre-gig discussion hosted by Steve Mead informs that Take Five is a course for handpicked musicians to learn more about publishing, funding and communication strategies, and, as more than a side-product, make some music together. The scheme has lately been expanded to include musicians from the continent. European Sunrise represent this year’s crop and includes musicians from Poland, France, Netherlands, France, Italy, Norway and the UK.

Daniel Herskedal

There’s a sense of anticipation as the players slouch on. Daniel Herskedal emits some exploratory sounds on tuba, and establishes an open soundscape which, spurred by bassist Andy Champion and drummer Marcos Baggiani, develops into quite a work-out, with soloists Arun Ghosh and Airelle Besson riding elegantly over the  pummelling rhythms. This is the closest the Sunrisers come to a jam (albeit a superior jam). 

Piotr Damasiewicz

 Piotr Damasiewicz comes on stage empty-handed and, conduction-style, creates sound by pointing at his comrades. The sonic wash of sound produced takes purpose and shape when Damasiewicz blows his trumpet, which is a fierce, expressive instrument, and hair-raising in primal power. 

Marcin Masecki

If I heard right, the title of pianist Marcin Masecki’s piece translates as ‘Rotten Bag’. The most through composed piece of the evening, conducted from the front by Masecki, ‘Rotten Bag’ is an anarchic parody of marching music, and sounds as if Masecki, a Pole, has been drinking from the same fountain as Willem Breuker. 

Airelle Besson

Things are getting interesting now. The dawn of European Sunrise is beginning to blaze in full glory. Everyone in the hall realises how they had stumbled onto something extraordinary: a band of nine top-flight jazzmen, and eight formidable composers (yes, Andy Champion is a formidable composer too, but he was only added to the line-up at the last minute: I almost wrote last minuet). 

Marcos Baggiani

Drummer Marcos Baggiani’s offering has revolutionary intent. It opens with floating chords utilising the rich timbres of the ensemble and instils an atmosphere of concentrated stillness as Masecki compulsively repeats notes in the top register of the piano, which become a gorgeous melody. Champion picks up the theme. Dolorous horns enter like squiffy mariachi. Guillaume Perret blows a keening, hard-edged tenor saxophone, which leads into a passage of group improvisation. The composer, behind his kit, calibrates the changes in emotional temperature with precision. 

At this point my notes get hard to read (I was writing in pitch dark) and become more excitable. From the scrawl, I can make out this: “Forget the business school shit, catharsis is where it’s at!”  

The sound is clamourous and exultant now, which is a sign that we’ve segued into ‘Icarus’ by Arun Ghosh. Excitement and exultancy is the stock-in-trade of Arun Ghosh. 

Arun Ghosh

The mix of culture and nationality is seamless, and yet the distinct identity of much of the music does set one wondering about the relationship between music and geography. Trumpeter Airelle Besson is French but offers impressions of Bogota, Colombia. The musical worlds coalesce in a sweet dirge that somehow evokes the history of both cultures. And how to pigeon-hole a citizen of the world like Arun Ghosh, “conceived in Bombay and raised in Manchester”, who somehow integrates old world elegance, Manc swagger and urban Asian clamour in one person. I was especially impressed by Ghosh’s discipline and commitment to the project, knowing what a demanding taskmaster he can be as leader. 

Chris Sharkey

Chris Sharkey - I would like to reiterate - is not simply a grunge guitarist. Taking Besson’s theme as a starting point, he produces ethereal Bill Frisell-like chimes, which tinkle and resolve into a more urgent piece, spliced by a dangerous riff which subsides into simmering tension. The horns enter to provide a satisfying climax. 

As it stands, European Sunrise strike a perfect balance between the individual and the collective, and very often blur the distinction, as when conduction techniques extend an individual solo with ensemble blowing. And the music flows seamlessly, not in patchwork style but as an integral whole. 

Guillaume Perret

The last piece of the evening comes from Guillaume Perret. With its criss-crossing melodies and pile-driving rhythms, and with Arun Ghosh mirroring and doubling the saxophonist’s intricate accents on clarinet, it served as a conventionally rousing finale. 

What can I say? The highlight of the Festival so far. I hope and trust that this won’t be the last we hear of European Sunrise, and that they very soon reproduce the magic in the studio. These guys have got it.

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