REVIEW: Manchester Jazz Festival opening weekend

A truly international musical event in Manchester.

Sometimes you can become complacent being a Mancunian, especially if you live in the city centre. Bars, pubs and restaurants to suit every taste, award winning museums and at this time of year a different festival almost every week, says Mike Strul.

On right now are Dig The City, Manchester’s very own garden festival, and one which has the tendency to slip under the radar but which has become a truly international event – the Manchester Jazz Festival. Since it opened in 1995, it has grown into a major festival on the UK jazz scene, bringing visitors and artists into the city from all four corners of the globe.

‘the jazz, hip hop and soul
blend that filled the Pavilion
tent on Friday certainly
sounded good’

Parking itself as usual in Albert Square, the 20th festival celebrations opened on early Friday evening with the New York Brass Band, who took centre stage in Festival Square wowing the early evening revellers to a free show full of boundless, brassy energy before marching off to raise the roof at Matt & Phred’s.

With an hour to kill, it was time to enjoy the Thwaites beer tent and the various food stalls around the site which include our favourite fine Thai vendor Chaophyra, Matilda’s ice cream, and Al’s Diner which sold the most amazing pulled pork with slaw roll.

Manchester Jazz Festival Chaophraya

Performing the first gig of this year’s festival in the Thwaites Pavilion were Manchester’s very own Buffalo Brothers, a new deep funk sensation who have exploded onto the UK jazz music scene and whose extravagant live spectaculars produce thunderous grooves, blistering horn lines, and 60’s and 70’s Craig Charles-type high energy funk, culminating into one high-energy smoothie.

Ask most people what they know about deep funk jazz and the answer is probably going to be ‘not very much’. It’s a genre of funk music which, unlike traditional mainstream funk, has a more soulful, rawer, grittier, and “heavier” sound. While the jazz purists might baulk at such a cocktail, it’s actually a recipe that makes for a great introduction to this year’s MJF, adding variety and texture and it’s a musical form I almost always enjoy.

Manchester Jazz Festival

Buffalo Brothers’ instrumental music combines trumpet, sax, keyboard, trombone, bass and drums with frontman Ryan Hayes, a kind of Bohemian Bez, dancing around the stage maniacally, making occasional sounds, and the melodic, at times haunting, sounds of Rachel Lasham on percussion.

Perhaps surprisingly, given their inclusion on the bill as a kind of homecoming, Friday was not quite a sell-out as the dark clouds descended over Albert Square and the Friday night revellers around the bars of Manchester flexed their muscles elsewhere. But the jazz, hip hop and soul blend that filled the Pavilion tent on Friday certainly sounded good. The band’s second set in particular was impressive, and by the end the crowd were on their feet hollering for more.

This year’s programme has UK and world premières, one-off events and something for every age and taste.

Festival highlights include: John Surman and Strings: one of Europe’s most acclaimed jazz musicians, in the magnificent Reading Room of Central Library; An Ape’s Progress: the world première of a new multi-media commission by Iain Ballamy with Irish poet and storyteller Matthew Sweeney and illustrator, comic book artist and filmmaker Dave McKean, to mark the 20th MJF and the 10th Manchester Literature Festival; Jazz Summer Sunday 2 August: an afternoon of interactive family-friendly events; Jazz North’s northern line showcase, 12 free gigs in 12 hours; headliners in the Thwaites Festival Pavilion include – Partisans, GoGo Penguin, Riot Jazz Brass Band and Baked à La Ska; and a special Jazz on 3:BBC Introducing show, with four emerging jazz bands selected to perform by a team of BBC DJs including Jez Nelson and Gilles Peterson.

MJF takes place until 9 August 2015

Tickets and booking information Latest festival news and updates at or @ManJazzFest


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