Review: Manchester Jazz Festival’s Quadratus @ Bridgewater Hall

By James Briscoe, Senior Arts & Culture Correspondent

Jazz fans rejoice! The Manchester Jazz Festival began its 16th year on Friday, a largely free occasion which has gone from strength-to-strength since its conception in 1995.

At Mancunian Matters we believe this is something that must not be missed so we will be covering a variety of performances and artists until the festival ends on Saturday July 30.

I headed over to the Bridgewater Hall on Lower Mosley Street yesterday to catch the matinee performance of jazz project, Quadratus.

When I walked in to Bridgewater Hall (the first time I had been there, I’m ashamed to say) I thought I was interrupting a pensioners’ lunch.

The grey brigade took up each of the 15 or so tables in the capacious foyer with their coffee, tea and biscuits and at first I thought I had come to the wrong place and then my thoughts turned to the dilemma of where I would park my bum.

However as the beginning of the performance neared a gaggle of youngsters waddled in and sat on the floor close to the corner of the hall where the band was set up.

And then, boy, I was in for a shock.

Amazingly for a sizable band, Quadratus started only a few minutes late and it felt like I had never heard live jazz music before.

By this point, the hall was jam (and scones) packed and although it was unlikely there would be any moshing or stage dives, I could really feel the energy and temperature reaching a crescendo.

At first it appeared star of the show was Mike Hall and his sexy saxophone, and he put lots of passion in to his performance, particularly in the early tracks.

Hall, who teaches jazz improvisation, theory, history and saxophone at Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) and directs the RNCM Big Band and Jazz Collective, has been described as “a hurricane on the bandstand and a major force in jazz education” by the Manchester Evening News.

However, the string players stole the show as the performance gained momentum with violinist Julian Gregory showing his extraordinary skill with riffs like a rock guitarist which seemed to even draw the frailest members of the audience to the edge of their seats.

And then, I began to realise how little I knew but how much I was quickly learning about this medium of musical performance, as I could see how each area of the band was equally integral to the ebb and flow of Quadratus’ jazz sound.

Quadratus are more of an orchestral jazz band, not like a group you would expect to see in a New Orleans back street bar.

Their sound is clearly refined and well practiced and although there was a hint of improvisation in their performance you could sense Hall’s tutorial background as he kept a tight musical ship.

Quadratus include Mike Hall – tenor saxophone and clarinets, Dan Whieldon – piano, Steve Berry – double bass, Eryl Roberts – drums, Julian Gregory and Thea Spiers – violins, Cheryl Law viola and Ester Harriott cello.

Manchester Jazz Festival (MJF) is just another opportunity for music lovers to get down to the city centre and enjoy some stellar performances so get down to one of the eclectic shows before the show comes to an end on Saturday  July 30 —

There were 5000 people at the festival on Saturday 23 July with Toby Greenwood’s We Free Kings, Gambol, ACV, Posé-Roper-Salvador Trio, Pascal Schumacher Quartet and Myke Wilson’s Hidden Treasures playing for audiences.

The 24:7 Theatre Festival is also going on this week so try to see a show or two —

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