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Space is the Place - Manchester Jazz Festival Day One


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Ralph Alessi with the Jim Hart Trio, Festival Pavilion, Albert Square, Manchester. Nat Birchall Quartet. Friday 23rd July 2010.

Marshall Allen & James Harrar's Cinema Soloriens and the Cosmo-Drama, Band on the Wall. Friday 23rd July 2010.

So it was finally here, the launch of the fifteenth Manchester Jazz Festival. The proceedings started in a novel way with Supertramp saxophonist, John Helliwell officially launching the festival playing a melody of notes stuck to a stave by members of the audience. I think John may have taken a liberty or two with the notes, but it was a lot of fun.

Vibes player Jim Hart and trumpeter Ralph Alessi got us going proper with a healthy dose of some fairly classic sounding medium swing. There was a particularly nice touch when the players synched in with the town hall bell bringing in the hour. 'Morbid Curiosity' caught my ear with it's Steve Reich'ish 'Different Trains' quality, always a winner for me. Hart's vibe sound is quite delicious, and his attack and phrasing were well on it tonight.

It was then a quick dash over to the Band on the Wall for the last few tracks of Nat Birchill's set. This is very much the sound of Coltrane's long modal vamps (or at least the tunes I heard were). Nat and his band really know how to get that sound down perfectly, and it came across really well along with the pensive piano of Adam Fairhill, and the contemplative double bass of Gavin Barras. 'Many Blessings' was suitably longing, with gently rolling piano arpeggios and ecstatic saxophone flourishes. Bang on if you like this sort of thing.

We were straight over to 1967 Haight Ashbury for the free jazz cosmic psychedelia of the Cinema Soloriens, complete with bell bottom green satin flares worn by guitarist Kamil Kruta. This was fascinating stuff, at least for the first thirty minutes or so. Ex-Sun Ra star, Marshall Allen, when not playing alto sax, was playing some kind of electronic flute. The vocals from James Harrar really reminded me of the Can sound on 'Tago Mago,' and I was really quite enjoying it.

At the risk of retorts from free jazz fans, I have to say I can't help thinking that the band had run out ideas after about half an hour, and then it all became a bit repetitive. Although it may be considered to conflict with the ideas of free jazz, it's hard not to think that a bit of listening to the other players and responding for the good of the overall sound would have improved things no end. One might say they were, but not in a way I could detect. One might say, why should they? In which case, yeah, OK I guess, if that's what you're in to. A bit more ..., ironically, space in the sound would have helped keep the interest level up, or at least some more shifts of shade, colour and pace. Space is indeed, the place I think, and I would have loved more of it. The overall groove from drummer Ed Wilcox was great, but it didn't change much for the whole single piece set. I believe I may now have been banned from Saturn.

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