Manchester Jazz Festival 2023Johnny James, Managing Editor
Manchester Jazz Festival is back with 10 days of live music from some of the best northern, national and international musicians operating in the world of contemporary jazz.
First staged in the summer of 1996, mjf holds the crown of being Manchester’s longest-running music festival. And it’s still going for a reason. Year on year the festival brings a massively diverse range of talent to the city, from big name artists to those – often unjustly – flying under the radar. While you may well know and love a number of the artists on the line-up, part of the fun is the artists you don’t know; mjf is also a place for discovery, for stumbling upon musical worlds you’ve never even heard of.
These musical worlds have never been so accessible – a good deal of the festival is free this year. In fact, the whole opening weekend is. Located in the vibrant neighbourhood of First Street, mjf 2023 kicks off with a celebration of the depth and breadth of the North’s home-grown (or at the least lovingly nurtured) talent. From powerful soul vocalist Yemi Bolatiwa to post-bop trip-hop band Moby Dickless (yep), there are some top acts playing across three stages (Main Stage, Garden Stage, HOME stage). And if you go for the music, you’ll stay for the full-on-festival vibes that kick off down there, particularly on sunny days.
After the opening weekend, we slide into the weekday gigs, spanning seven venues: Matt & Phreds, Band on the Wall, The Stoller Hall, The Yard, St Ann’s Church, Forsyth Music Shop and – newcomers to the festival – The Blues Kitchen. At these shows you’ll find some of the best names in contemporary (and occasionally not-so-contemporary) jazz. Up there is Mica Millar (Band on the Wall, Thursday 25 May) – one of the UK’s brightest new soul stars and the recipient of Jazz FM’s prestigious Soul Act of The Year Award in 2022. And you’ve got to check out legendary funk trombonist Fred Wesley (The Blues Kitchen, Tuesday 23 May), who, aptly for someone who cut his chops as musical director, arranger and composer for James Brown, is performing with the Godfather of funk’s own backing band, The J.B.’s.
The action condenses around Band on the Wall for a weekend-long closing party, launching on Friday 26 May with Ibibio Sound Machine and their electrifying fusion of West-African funk and disco with modern post-punk and electro. A triple bill of Marcus Joseph, the Romarna Campbell Trio and the Robocobra Quartet (Saturday 27 May) also promises to be a standout, alongside Buena Vista Social Club’s Eliades Ochoa (Sunday 28 May) – one of the best Cuban guitarists of his generation.
Over at The Stoller Hall that weekend, you can catch drummer Billy Cobham (Thursday 18 May), who’s celebrating the 50th anniversary of his debut solo album Spectrum – a breakthrough in jazz-fusion that is recognised as one of the genre’s most significant and influential creations. And at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, mjf is hosting a new commission from un.procedure AKA Piera Onacko (keyboards), Cassie Kinoshi (saxophone) and Nathan England-Jones (drums). Incorporating spatialised sound and video collage, THEMORY (Friday 26 May – Saturday 27 May) is an immersive audiovisual installation, drawing from the subjective and fluid forces of family and history, place and time.
As you can see, the line-up is huge, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. Head to mjf’s website, via the ‘Book Now’ button below, for the full scoop. And keep your eye out for other activities mjf has up its sleeve this year, including the much-loved, city-wide piano trail, wherein mjf and Forsyth Music Shop hunt for Manchester’s best street pianists.