Manchester Jazz Festival: 88 bands, 500 musicians

Polly Checkland Harding

The festival of all things jazz kicks off next month – we take a look at what’s in store.

Manchester Jazz Festival teeters on the edge of a major anniversary: next year, the event will turn twenty. This summer, MJF feels like many of the things nineteen year-olds often are: ambitious, yet sometimes a bit unsure of how to present itself. Let’s face it, jazz is a notoriously broad church, which plays to our nineteen year-old anxieties. As in, where do we belong?

Manchester Jazz Festival falls over itself to offer something for everyone, from the brass of the big band to music that’s more abstract and reflective, so its strength lies in presenting accessible, engaging jazz to a wide audience. And with 88 bands, 500 musicians and 30 free concerts taking place over just ten days, there is a huge amount to dip a jazzy toe into.

There’s much to be said for just sitting in Albert Square with a drink, soaking up the sounds and the sunshine

Over from stateside, Booker T and Lonnie Liston Smith are two of the festival’s heritage heavyweights, the latter having played with Miles Davis and Marvin Gaye. Piano trio Bad Plus, meanwhile, are sensational performers, and Adam Fairhall’s The Imaginary Delta – appearing with poet Jackie Kaye at RNCM – should prove an interesting fusion of early jazz with poetry. And it’s hard to resist the fizzy energy of the Hackney Colliery Band, whose instrumental interpretations of songs from all sorts of genres are sure to shake the sides of the Thwaites Pavilion in Albert Square.

Less traditional forms of jazz get a look-in too, though, with the Soup Kitchen basement playing host to Silence Blossoms – think melodic-lyrics-meets-electronica, with props such as AM radios thrown in for good measure – while Space F!ght is billed as an interaction between 3D mapping and sound, and Tin Men and the Telephone intrigue with a gig that encourages the audience to keep their mobile phones switched on.

There are new commissions. Anton Hunter at Central Library (as part of Library Live) premieres Article XI, a suite for an eleven-piece ensemble, created in collaboration with musicians from the UK, Finland and Norway. Hunter’s composition looks set to be experimental and responsive, combining prepared music with improvisation.

The international side of things is headed up by Manchester’s sublime Arun Ghosh, who showcases his new South Asian Suite. Artists such as Diego Amador and Namvula are among a great world fusion line-up here – and who could resist a bit of a party-on with Craig Charles’ Funk n Soul Club and the Afrobeat Collective?

Or why not just take pot luck? There’s much to be said for just sitting in Albert Square with a cool drink, soaking up the sounds and (crossed fingers) sunshine, and contemplating what it might be like to be twenty, with all the extra confidence that might bring.

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