Hans Prya

6 August
Band on the Wall

The last time Hans Prya’s cohort of jazz music maestros lined up on the Band on the Wall stage together was in January 2013. They had just completed a week-long residency programme, organised by Brighter Sound and led by the US collective Snarky Puppy, all picked out as individually gifted musicians, but untested as a unit. Under the tutelage of Snarky Puppy’s Grammy-winning bassist, Michael League, they flourished and delivered an emphatic performance, so I was curious to see them again at Manchester Jazz Festival, this time showcasing songs composed as a group, without the same expert input and direction.

As part of the Snarky Puppy residency, the group had each brought individual song ideas to the table – some more developed than others – which were then adapted and improved during the week, with new parts added to include more participants, but with the spotlight remaining on the original songwriter. And so it was again that, although most of the ten-piece were involved for most of the set, the emphasis of each song was channelled towards a particular individual or section, rather than all instruments competing for attention.

Their repertoire ranges from jolly, danceable songs about schizophrenia, taking in slow burning aural caresses led by meandering trombone and duvet day comforting vocals, to the tempestuous discordance on ‘Hans On Prya’, carved out by the strings of electric guitar and violin, breaking into expressive sax and bongos. ‘Why So Negative’ allows a platform for an upbeat, keys-led jive, while shouts for “more” pave the way for singer Chesqua’s ‘High On Love’, reshaped to accommodate solos by each player in the horn section.

The continuation of this band, albeit not incorporating all participants from the Snarky sessions, is testament to the opportunities created by project facilitators like Brighter Sound, and gratitude is shown during their inter-tune patter to those who laid the groundwork for their steps towards becoming career musicians, but with this sonic arsenal they can look forward rather than back.

Ian Pennington

Norma Winstone

6 August
St Ann's Church

Norma Winstone's trio with Klaus Gesing (soprano sax) and Glauco Venier (piano) are incredibly confident. They sauntered into a packed St Ann's without a set list, casually chatting about what they might open with.

This trio now record for the legendary ECM label, but I got into Norma Winstone via the reissued 1972 album Home Stretch Blues by The Michael Garrick Band, with Winstone on vocals. Jonny Trunk later described his first encounter with this music in The Wire, saying, “I’d never heard such interesting piano, such non-jazz, such non-classical”. Winstone’s solo album, Edge Of Time, from the same year, is equally crucial, should readers wish to track her back.

There is something William Blake-ish in the ‘Fire Opal and Blue Poppies’ ‘series of visions’ on Home Stretch Blues. There’s something of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘On Wenlock Edge’ in it. Garrick studied English Literature at UCL and immersed himself in the landscapes of Britain, and Williams was interested in folk, incorporating it into his scores. Garrick’s music, being jazz, is also hybrid. Home Stretch Blues came out on Argo, a label known for folk. Winstone is steeped in all of this, and being a jazz artist aligns her with America, but this music is somehow very English too.

Winstone’s contemporary work can also be found on Edge Of Time. A riff on John Coltrane's ‘Giant Steps’ proves this with wonderful added lyrics, and a cover of 'Live To Tell' by Madonna presents stark, isolated piano chords from Venier, pulling the song away from its slow-burning, last-dance original into a melancholic lamentation. At this point, my mind turned to the homeless protest camp outside, next to people blithely drinking Prosecco in the sun.

Suddenly, a reading of Fred Neil's ‘Everybody's Talkin’ heads off into outer space. It was really refreshing to hear risks being taken on such a formal occasion, although at one point this reading seemed to be in three different keys. Winstone apologetically thanked the audience for allowing them to let the music take them where it would. This is both a finely honed and brave practice.

The recent death of John Taylor caused Winstone to choke up as she explained that he was born in Manchester. There was a sense of time speeding up and slowing down at this event, past time and future time, completely independent of each other. Jazz can do that, in its re-stitching of old standards, forcing them to make new meaning, whilst retaining tradition and making us hear it again.

Despite being an obituary, final sentences and full stops were irrelevant here.

Steve Hanson


3 August
Central Library

The recently reopened Central Library, with its reinvigorated performance space, housed many young acts at this year's Manchester Jazz Festival. The set-up, intended for the selected few, was unfortunately occupied by the interested many. It proposed too good an opportunity of free music in the centre of the country’s second city. The resultant lack of movement between acts meant that the audience spilled out into the main atrium, with some spectators being coaxed down from various cupboards and tabletops. This in turn affected the quality of sound in this makeshift auditorium, and this act was unfortunately no exception.

Manjula, translating from Hindi to 'lovely', comprises four Leeds-based musicians, so fitted into the Northern Line showcase. The most experienced member, Sam Bell, kept tempo on what resembled conga drums whilst Joe Harris and Simon Read built depth on the guitar and double bass respectively. Centre stage and centrepiece sat Vanessa Rani Chutturgoon, who is credited with vocals, but was surrounded by various percussion instruments.

The troupe are obviously very talented musicians in their own right, with sounds demonstrating the breadth of jazz internationally. But despite clambering to various locations for better sound positioning, it was impossible to differentiate the vocals from the rest of the sound. The vocalist spent some time giving background to the ensemble, but the lack of projection was also evident here. Sometimes she would join in on the drums, which seemed to detract even further from the melody. Manjula are exactly that, lovely, but lacked clarity and at times confidence, preventing any further progression.

Charles Veys