Gogo Penguin

7 August
Festival Pavilion

Rob Turner's 'drummer face' is an odd amalgamation of serenity and smugness. Unlike many other gargoyle-faced percussionists, he seems somewhat leisurely and tick free to stage right, whilst his four limbs move at breakneck speed to expel the incredibly complex, jungle-inspired rhythmic patterns that operate as the skeletal frame for this Mancunian trio.

Centrally placed, Nick Blacka's double bass serves as the muscular system which drives the group's ever-building sound, with appropriately placed effected bowed sections giving way to frenetic plucking that seems to be attached to both visible and invisible strings, which pull first at his heavy duty instrument and second at the feet of the crowd.

Chris Illingworth’s piano adds the delicate skin to his companions’ rhythm section, creating a musical conversation unlike most other talented jazz units, one where they don’t use each other as platforms to showboat, but rather swing as a singular entity that embodies improvisation, deep thought and rigorous practice to generate a soulful yet seemingly digitised spiritual being.

'One Percent' is the best example of their 'man imitating machine' technique, with the three instruments unifying stutters, stabs and off-kilter sequences to perform a slick job of moving modern jazz into a strange new area, one where they take inspiration from flocking birds and sampler geeks alike, with little regard for convention.

The somewhat ageing congregation of the Friday night responded with forced movement to the increased tempo of 'Garden Dog Barbecue' and 'Hopopono', although if one was to compare this set to one the Penguins played a month earlier for the final Norvun Devolution at Roadhouse, it appears the somewhat sanitised Manchester Jazz Festival stage is not as suited to their live show as a sweaty, black, ecstasy-laced dance floor.

This is jazz to shaq out to, make no mistake of that.

Joe Mills

Mr Scruff & Kelvin Brown

1 August
Band on the Wall

Manchester purebred Mr Scruff continued his residency at Band on the Wall for a mammoth jazz-electro five-hour set, accompanied by back-to-back sets from another Manchester resident, Kelvin Brown, better known for his residency at the Electric Chair. Band on the Wall, no stranger to large crowds on weekends, provided a platform for all tastes across the audience. The more relaxed kicked back on the upper balcony, whilst the brave took on the radiant crowds to dance the night away on the ground floor, often joined by Mr Scruff himself.

Described as a ‘melting pot of jazz, soul, hip-hop, funk, disco, deep house, reggae, afrobeat, latin’, plus the un-categorisable, the show didn’t disappoint and even took some form of structure despite the enormous scope. The introductory few hours remained within the theme of the jazz festival, with some deviations into Motown and funk. The pair took turns, mixing in old classics, each distinct taste apparent from the push-pull of intra-track tempo variation.

The real show started past the stroke of midnight, when the lights dimmed and Mr Scruff took to the stage for a solo performance of his Keep It Unreal set, accompanied by his signature potato-man visuals. The transition from relaxed jazz atmosphere to intense electro bass was sudden and intense, reminiscent of a Darkside set intro, resulting in a quick change of pace from the audience.

The event was well planned and demonstrated the interest in all things jazz, but the love of all things electro. Such is Manchester.

Charles Veys

John Surman and Strings

3 August
Central Library

John Surman has a thing for unusual venues and a keen sense of event. I saw his ‘Lifelines’ project at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival a couple of years ago, which brought the Bolsterstone Male Voice Choir into his music, with a vast organ sound. He was rightly nominated for a British Composer Award for it.

Manchester Central Library’s Reading Room is a place I occasionally go to record pens dropping accidentally from tables, so that I can hear the natural dub echo return across the round room at five different intervals. Surman installed himself, a bassist and a killer string quartet there for one evening. The MC had to recalibrate his delivery due to the echo, no need for fake reverb here.

The recent death of British jazz cornerstone John Taylor hung over the gig, as it did the Norma Winstone concert a few days later. Surman spoke movingly of the loss in his characteristic, kindly voice. Surman is one of those treasured, likeable British music figures, extremely talented yet seemingly egoless and full of understated humour.

Believe it or not, the British jazz revival is a fairly recent phenomenon. I began to pick up on it when Surman’s 1969 album, Way Back When, was reissued in America in 2005 by those Soft Machine nuts, Cuneiform. A little later, Surman’s record was just one in a series of superlative British jazz reissues. So it was warming to see a busy Central Library gig attended by a surprisingly broad generational bandwidth.

The absolute high points came from veteran bassist Chris Laurence. His craft has been honed across 50 years of playing and he made great, dark, abstract paintings right in front of us. With its occasional queasy strings, Surman’s melancholic alto and baritone landscapes and the bleak Bartokian piece for violin, the event felt like a preparation for the coming winter.

Steve Hanson

Hansu Tori

4 August
Festival Pavilion

Set within the grounds of Albert Square, the Festival Pavilion housed many of the acts thought to attract a larger audience. The fête-esque white tents saw rows of chairs, neatly set as if for a school assembly, whilst the bar at the rear reminded me of the nature of this temporary establishment. The crowd for this event was not quite half the capacity, but with many free alternatives running simultaneously, that was to be expected. The sound, for once, was set up impeccably, with each instrument distinguishable yet normalised to each other.

Hansu Tori is to all intents and purposes a large band, with drums, double/electric bass, a saxophone trio, keyboard/piano and an occasional vocalist, all of whom were sourced in and around Birmingham. It is evident, despite their respective talents, that the group is interchangeable but for one man, David Austin Grey.

David starts each song with a short description, followed by a series of clicks to indicate the timing, much like an orchestral conductor. His periodic nods and shakes of acknowledgement or occasional dislikes display the dictatorship format of the ensemble. This comes across even more as he mixes in various electronic concoctions between the saxophone freestyles. The music formed a more traditional outlook on the vast world of jazz, but fused it with minimalist Japanese references. Particular highlights, and times when the group presented as a band, came with the introduction of vocalist Eliza Shannard.

Charles Veys