This year’s Manchester Jazz Festival highlights that nearly made my review were Llareggub Brass Band, Young Pilgrims and Collocutor. But they were all just pipped by HTrio, who had an early afternoon slot in front of a packed pavilion, where they tightrope walked through two sets of extended and completely open improvisation wonderfully. The audience were not young, but I hung around afterwards and chatted to some of them and they were enthusiastic. Even the odd one who thought the result was more abstract than they are used to praised their clear musicianship, their craft and skill. For me, this is what MJF is all about, distilled into a single anecdote; the fantastical coming together of things that previously were not; a chance meeting of an Andrew Cheetham on a stage with an alto and a bassist with a bow in front of retired jazzers who have never heard the likes.
Similarly, at Central Library, completely free of charge, Inclusion Principle invoked the best of prog-jazz, Jade Warrior, Soft Machine, Nucleus and Mike Westbrook, particularly Metropolis. At the same time they brought in glitchtronics and loops, updating their roots. Martin Archer is a sheer, brilliant talent, operating several outfits at once – as are most of the acts here, the members of HTrio included – but he manages to cover the entire messy sprawl of music that has taken root on this island, without being ironic, referential or too reverential. His solo albums are genius, his work with Julie Tippets – formerly Driscoll – wonderful, his excursions into freaktronics as Masayo Asahara rich and his raw metal and free jazz in Combat Astronomy uncompromising.
Inclusion Principle expand and retract and here they are a trio. They seemingly nonchalantly raise the spirits, ‘house wrecking’ as the old gospel parlance might have it, but in a kind of abstract, formal, painterly way. They aren’t faking their planned improvisation either. At one point, you can see the musicians trying to re-lock in some way, rescuing the piece from the edge of chaos right in front of our eyes and ears, like a boat trying to pull away from the edge of Niagara Falls. Where Archer is concerned, time will show the wiser. Every project he touches is immediately plugged into a subterranean lava flow of great British avant practice.
MJF is always uneven, of course. Graham Massey’s Toolshed played to a sliver of an audience, dressed in gold foil. The band were all driving up the same motorway, in the same direction, in similar but separate directions, at different speeds, but all over 100mph. Visually Sun Ra, musically pub jazz: Massey’s a great bloke, but Toolshed have been on better form.
Maje Bugge played sets of cello improvisation at St Ann’s Church that were clearly influenced by Gianto Scelsi. Again, this is the great thing about MJF, its openness of curation, its willingness to risk absorbing things right on the edge of jazz and to break them to new audiences. Maje Bugge got an elated reaction in a packed church, job done. MJF, I salute you and all who sail therein. See you next year.Steve Hanson