Thursday 1 August 2013

Manchester Jazz Festival, Wednesday 31 July - The Markov Chain, Georgia Mancio Quartet

The Markov Chain
Festival Pavilion Teepee 

“As you might have gathered,” said Adam Fairhall, after a turbulent opening salvo of piano, bass and drums, “we play free jazz, of which our drummer, Paul Hession, is a veteran. So our tunes don’t have titles, so there’s nothing to introduce.” And with that, he dived under the lid of the piano to scrape a few bare wires. 

Adam Fairhall

Boy, did they go for it. This was the orgiastic, earth-shaking, cacophonous real deal, with none of the mimsy “I don't feel ready for this yet” reticence that besets so much homegrown free jazz. But the Markovs were also capable of light and shade. The tumult subsided abruptly and gave way to tinkling in the upper register of the piano, answered by feathery brushwork from Hession, and bowing from Tim Fairhall  on string bass – and the rain falling on the Teepee provided background texture! 

There’s nothing like free jazz for being in the moment. When the next-door Town Hall clock chimed the hour, Adam responded with a spontaneous chime motif on piano, and then it was right back to clatter, crash, bang and wallop. 

Adam and Tim Fairhall 

No, the description is unfair. There is considerable artistry in the music, and the Markovs apply an extensive knowledge of jazz history. At one moment they played a passage of almost conventional driving bebop, but then, aware of the danger of pre-determination, they instantly speeded up to Warp Nine, I suspect that if they'd slowed down instead, it would sound just like Thelonious Monk. And yet it was never so frenetic that Hession wasn’t able to punctuate Fairhall’s phrases with rimshot accents, like an avant-garde Philly Joe Jones. 

Paul Hession 

The hour passed too quickly. I loved it. It was so rigorous it made The Imaginary Delta, Fairhall’s previous contribution to MJF, and the highlight of the 2011 Festival, it made The Imaginary Delta sound like the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain. And, contrary to expectation, the crowd liked it too. There were walk-outs, sure, but the final applause scored high on the clapometer and broad smiles passed easily from musician to spectator. There’s no gainsaying the generosity of the public when presented with free jazz (both senses).      

Georgia Mancio Quartet
Festival Pavilion Teepee 

Georgia Mancio

Perfection of a sort is offered by Georgia Mancio, one of the most talented and sophisticated of all contemporary British jazz singers. The first marvel of her performance: how could anyone undertake a seven hour road trip with emergency stops and come out so fragrant? 

Mancio sets the parameters with the opening number, ‘Everyone’s Song But My Own’, a haunting and advanced melody (by Kenny Wheeler) which she then proceeds to gloss with adventurous but smooth paraphrases. ‘That Old Black Magic’ finds her using her voice like an instrument, drawing on the rhythmic and melodic freedoms of the bop revolution. But Georgia has her cake and eats it too: the technical bravura is complemented by an immediate emotional connection, and she can turn a familiar song like ‘Willow weep For Me’ into something personal, alluring and fresh. 

And just when I was thinking, in my critical way – it’s very delectable but does it transcend cast-iron femme jazz conventions? – Mancio went and did it: she started whistling on ‘Willow Weep For Me’. It has to be a first.

Tim Lapthorn

The band is also impressive. It comes as no surprise that the MJF appearance is the last concert of a 24-date UK tour: the interaction between the players is extraordinary. Tim Lapthorn is virtuoso piano-player who is dominant to the point of overwhelming. But his sensitivity always wins out, as he anticipates and celebrates and motivates Mancio. Bassist Mark Hodgson and drummer Dave Ohm share a gift for telepathy and are playful with it, swapping fours in ‘Falling in Love With Love’ in alternate breakneck speed and dead-slow and stop.

‘Falling in Love With Love’ might be the highlight of the set, actually; a dazzling display of Mancio’s bright tone, superb phrasing, flawless diction and theatrical sparkle. And aren’t the words witty and wise? 

Mark Hodgson 
                                                                                                                                   Dave Ohm                                                                                                       
And still the Georgia Mancio Quartet have surprises in store. Since Nina Simone’s swinging version, it’s been customary to take ‘Just in Time’ at full-throttle. But here, the title is taken literally, and every line is played in a different time signature,. The shifts don’t jar, they actually gain in momentum. It’s a joyful, exuberant and fun demonstration of rhythmic virtuosity. Bravo Mark Hodgson! Bravo Dave Ohm! It does settle down eventually. I mean, you can take a joke too far.    

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