by Ian Mann
November 18, 2020
This fund raising compilation in aid of the Band on the Wall in Manchester features a series of exceptional live performances recorded at the venue. Artists include Gregory Porter and Snarky Puppy.
“Live from Band on the Wall”
(Band on the Wall Records BOTW002)
Like so many other music venues in the UK and throughout the world Manchester’s Band on the Wall has been suffering from the economic effects of Covid 19.
This ten track compilation is the second fund raising album to be released on the venue’s own label, following the release of the earlier “2020” fund raising compilation.
Situated in Manchester’s Northern Quarter the venue is taking advantage of the current hiatus to undertake a long planned expansion and renovation project and is planning to re-open again in September 2021. The proceeds from this current compilation will, of course, also help with this.
As the BOTW website explains;
The unusual name comes from the building’s days as the George & Dragon pub in the early 20th century. Regulars would affectionately refer to the “Band on the Wall” as the place where the house musicians literally played on a stage halfway up the back wall, designed to create more room in the busy pub.
Since 2009 BOTW has been run on a not for profit basis by the registered charity Inner City Music and has also become involved with promoting events and tours at other venues.
BOTW has pursued a wide ranging musical policy and has presented jazz, rock, folk, blues, soul, funk, afrobeat and more. In the late 1970s the venue was part of Manchester’s punk and post punk scene and hosted bands such as The Buzzcocks, The Fall and Joy Division.
“Live from Band on the Wall” reflects this musical diversity as Jonah Baldwin’s liner notes explain;
“This release features a selection of some of our favourite songs, from some of the most memorable shows to have been recorded as part of the Band on the Wall archive.
These tracks represent our commitment to celebrating the diversity and excellence of music created by remarkable people from across the world. All tracks were recorded at Band on the Wall and have been very kindly contributed by the artists for inclusion on this CD, which has been produced to support the venue and our ongoing mission to promote and celebrate the great music of many cultures during this challenging year.
As 2020 has become a defining year for all of us who work to bring people together to celebrate live music, for us this represents not only the journey we have been on over the last ten years but also helps to define our future commitment to this amazing music.”
The selection features tracks recorded at Band on the Wall between 2009 and 2014 with all sale proceeds being split 50/50 between the artists and Band on the Wall.
The artists represented include some very big names, among them Gregory Porter, Snarky Puppy, Azymuth, Yellowjackets and Bugge Wesseltoft. As can be seen it’s a truly international compilation with artists from the UK, the US, Brazil, Norway and Iceland.
There’s arguably more authentic jazz content than on the “2020” fund raiser, with the musical styles here embracing jazz, funk, fusion, soul, afrobeat, soul, electronica and folk.
The selection begins with arguably the biggest name contributor on the album, American vocalist Gregory Porter, a jazz artist who has gone on to achieve a remarkable level of mainstream success. I have lived to regret that I passed up on the opportunity of reviewing a show by Porter at the Hare & Hounds pub in Birmingham a few year ago, 2010 or 2011 if memory serves. These days Porter doesn’t play pubs any more, so I’d guess that this performance of the song “On My Way To Harlem” at the BOTW was probably recorded at about the same time, particularly as the song turns up on Porter’s second album “Be Good”, released in 2012.
What’s immediately striking about this live performance is just how raw it is, with its blazing horns, driving rhythms and, of course, Porter’s authoritative vocals. Porter’s evocative lyrics create a real sense of place and name-check Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes and Marvin Gaye. The credits on this compilation album are far from comprehensive, so I’m unable to identify the musicians responsible for the blistering saxophone and piano solos, or the bassist and drummer providing the suitably propulsive rhythms. Anyway, it’s a hell of a band, topped off my Porter’s impassioned, soulful vocals. These days I find Gregory’s music a bit too smooth for my personal tastes, but this nugget from the BOTW archive serves as a reminder of just how exciting he can be. The audience reaction is suitably enthusiastic, and is in itself a reminder of the collective joy of the shared live music experience. There are plenty more examples of this as the album progresses.
Next up is “Boom Clicky Boom Klack” from the Berlin based jazz/funk/soul collective Jazzanova.
This particular song was a collaboration with vocalist Shaun Escoffery, who wrote the lyrics, although I’m not sure whether it’s him actually singing here. In any event the track maintains the energy levels established by Porter and features a funky, electric bass driven groove, a soulful, declamatory vocal and plenty of audience interaction. The vocalist presides over features for the other musicians, the line up also including guitars, horns, electric keyboards, drums and percussion.
The party continues with “Lady”, performed by the Anglo-Nigerian artist Dele Sosimi and his Afrobeat Orchestra. The song was written by Fela Kuti, with whose band Sosimi once played, and this live arrangement by Sosimi features some excellent playing from a highly accomplished band. I saw Sosimi give an exciting, high energy performance at the Mostly Jazz Festival in Birmingham back in 2011, and this may well be the same group of musicians. Sosimi is an experienced showman who presides over the proceedings with great authority and encourages the involvement of the crowd.
There’s a slight pause for breath with “I Believe In Your Love”, performed by the late American soul singer Charles Bradley (1948-2017). The song is taken from Bradley’s 2011 album “No Time for Dreaming”, and presumably this live performance dates from around that time. It’s a powerful rendition, featuring Bradley’s soulful, bluesy vocals, and an arrangement featuring guitar, bass, organ, horns, drums and backing vocals. Stardom came relatively late for Bradley, who endured some difficult life experiences, and who turned to singing after being influenced by James Brown. At the conclusion of this performance he sounds positively overwhelmed by the enthusiastic reaction of the Manchester crowd.
Home grown talent is represented by a performance by singer, guitarist and songwriter Kirsty Almeida, a leading figure on the Manchester music scene. Occupying a musical territory in the hinterland between jazz and folk this performance of the song “Cool Down Rewind” features some of Manchester’s leading jazz musicians, plus a string quartet whose players regularly work with musicians from the worlds of jazz and folk. There’s a suitably chilled out, blissful feel about the music, but with lyrics tinged with an element of regret. Almeida’s pure toned, conversational vocals and acoustic guitar are augmented by a band featuring;
Tom Davies – electric guitar, Matt Owens – double bass, John Ellis – piano, Rick Wheedon – drums, Olivia Moore, Laura Senior – violins, Lucy Nolan – viola, Peggy Nolan – cello, Kenji Fenton, Russell Bennett, Richard Wigley – percussion
It’s the only line up to be published in full, so it’s only fair that everybody gets full credit.
The next three items are a trio of powerful instrumental performances from three major names.
First up is “Club Morocco” from the Brazilian jazz/funk outfit Azymuth. Written by keyboardist Jose Roberto Bertrami and bassist Alex Malheiros the piece features an expansive electric piano solo from Bertrami as Malheiros provides a bubbling electric bass groove. Bertrami also deploys a variety of synths to broaden the range of the trio’s sound, the line up being completed by drummer Ivan Conti. To be honest I’ve always regarded Azymuth’s recorded output as being a little on the bland side, but I found myself rather enjoying this live recording. Fusion (for want of a better word) recordings can often sound over-produced and it’s in live performance that the true abilities of the musicians can be best appreciated.
Next up, and still loosely in the ‘fusion’ bag is “Strawman”, performed by the American collective Snarky Puppy. Written by the group’s leader and bassist Michael League the piece appears on the album “Bring Us The Bright”, which was released in 2008. Like Gregory Porter Snarky Puppy no longer play in small venues, so I’d guess that this BOTW performance probably dates back quite a long way. As with Porter I missed out on seeing these guys at the Hare & Hounds too, something I’d always regretted until November 2019 when I finally caught a Snarky Puppy live show at the Academy in Bristol, a hugely exciting event which is reviewed here;
This performance from Manchester also falls into the highly exciting category. “Strawman” is introduced by a drum and percussion feature and goes on to incorporate blistering synthesiser, guitar and trumpet solos, with everything centred around the thrum and throb of the leader’s bass. Snarky Puppy performances are characterised by a combination of power and precision, allied to a mighty groove, and all these elements are present here, along with a touch of humour during the synth solo, presumably played by the band’s ‘jester in chief’ Shaun Martin. The atmosphere in such an intimate venue is palpably electric and the applause deafening. “We love you Snarky Puppy!” shouts a female voice from the crowd, to League’s obvious delight.
Next up another US ‘ fusion’ outfit, the long running Yellowjackets, currently fronted by tenor saxophonist and composer Bob Mintzer. From the group’s “Timeline” album we hear Mintzer’s tune “Why Is It”, which features the composer’s muscular tenor sax above a powerful drum groove, bubbling electric bass and founder member Russell Ferrante’s keyboard textures. Ferrante switches to an acoustic piano sound for his own solo, which sees him stretching out at length. There is also a feature for electric bass, presumably played by Jimmy Haslip, who appears on the “Timeline” album, partnered in the rhythm section by drummer Will Kennedy. There’s a rousing BOTW reception for this too.
Following these three high octane instrumental offerings we are offered a contrast in style with “Oldest Friend”, performed by the Icelandic singer and songwriter Hafdis Huld, together with her partner, the British musician Alisdair Wright. With Huld singing and Wright playing acoustic guitar this is a more intimate, singer-songwriter style acoustic performance. Huld sings sweetly, in English, her lyrics literate, intelligent and perceptive. I rather enjoyed this slice of contemporary folk and would be keen to hear more from Huld, who currently has three full length albums under her belt.
Finally we enter the ‘chill out lounge’ for Bugge Wesseltoft’s “Singing”, a haunting piece of ‘jazztronica’ featuring the composer’s keyboards and electronics. As befits its title the piece also includes Wesseltoft’s fragile but effective vocals, with the composer also electronically manipulating the sound of his own voice. Despite the electronic gadgetry it’s an intimate, vulnerable solo performance, which also draws a rapturous reception from the BOTW audience.
I have to admit that I’ve never actually visited Band on the Wall, but after hearing this excellent compilation album I feel a degree of kinship with the place. There are some excellent performances here, cherry picked from the venue’s archive, that cover a broad range of music from all over the world, proof that BOTW truly is a venue with an international reputation.
In these troubled times it is just one of many venues that needs the support of the music loving public. I’d urge anybody reading this to consider purchasing this album, you’ll be supporting one of the UK’s best loved music venues, and getting an album’s worth of exceptional live performances for your trouble.
“Live from Band on the Wall”, plus a whole lot of other merchandise, is available from the venue’s website http://www.bandonthewall.org
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