Manchester Jazz Festival 2015: Our top 5 highlights

Polly Checkland Harding

Manchester Jazz Festival 2015 is looking bigger and better than ever for its 20th anniversary – here are our highlights.

Manchester Jazz Festival is celebrating 20 summers of jazz with 79 gigs from over 400 national and international artists – and that rather splendid swirly-paint design (the technical term, I think you’ll find), which you might have spotted on the festival’s posters and website. From 31 July to 9 August there are ten music filled days across ten standout venues to look forward to – but with so many shows to pick from (and that lusciously colourful design to distract you), how to you choose between saxophone supremos, immersive audio-visual experiences and much, much more? Well, we’ve whittled down the programme to our top five shows. You’re welcome.

1. John Surman and Strings

For Manchester Jazz Festival’s debut in the unusual acoustics of Central Library’s Reading Room, the team has lined up a one-off performance by acclaimed musician John Surman, who will be showcasing his multi-faceted solo recordings. These take inspiration from, amongst other things, bell ringing practice at the Saltash Church in Cornwall. Reading Room, Manchester Central Library, Monday 3 Aug, 8pm. Tickets £22

2. Efpi Records and Onze Heures Onze Collectives

In a less atmospheric, but perhaps more hip setting, will be a collaborative set from Manchester’s Efpi Records and jazz collective from Paris, Onze Heures Onze. Expect small groups and large ensemble pieces experimenting with ways of making music and followed by a Nirvana-inspired set from French quintet OXYD. Soup Kitchen, Wednesday 5 Aug, 9pm. Tickets £8

3. An Ape’s Progress

A unique multi-media performance is our next top pick: world premiere An Ape’s Progress combines the music of acclaimed saxophonist and composer Iain Ballamy with words from Irish poet-cum-storyteller Matthew Sweeney and visual art from illustrator, filmmaker and comic book artist Dave McKean (who’s previously created work for Tori Amos and Neil Gaiman) to tell the story of The Old Monkey, who leaves the circus in China for a new life in Manchester. RNCM, Thursday 6 Aug, Thursday 6 Aug, 8pm. Tickets £17

4. Evolution: Seeds and Streams

Another new commission, this time inspired by the theme of evolution. Pianist, singer and composer John Ellis has teamed up with Manchester-based moving image artist Antony Barkworth-Knight to create an audio-visual work that explore what evolution is, and where it’s taking us. To get a taster for what this will involve, take a peek at this specially created trailer. In a nicely cyclical turn of fate, The John Ellis Big Band headlined the first Manchester Jazz Festival in 1996. The Great Hall, Manchester Town Hall, Friday 7 Aug, 10pm. Tickets £10

5. Airelle Besson

Last, but by no means least, one of the closing acts: Airelle Besson is French Jazz Musician of the year, as well as having won the Django Reinhart Prize. She’ll be playing her gently experimental and intensely personal music to the Thwaites Festival Pavilion for Manchester Jazz Festival’s final day. Thwaites Festival Pavilion, Sunday 9 August, 4.30pm. Tickets £4 (OTD)

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