Photography: Mike Sheerin /

Liverpool International Jazz Festival

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  • Mammal Hands
  • Wandering Monster
  • Blind Monk Trio
  • Viktor Nordberg
  • David Helbock Trio
  • Neil Cowley Trio
The Capstone Theatre 12/3/17

2017 sees the LIVERPOOL INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL celebrate its fifth year at The Capstone Theatre, tucked away on Liverpool Hope University’s Creative Campus in Everton. Established by the Capstone’s creative campus manager Neil Campbell, a classical guitarist and composer himself, LIJF has previously welcomed Courtney Pine, Led Bib, GoGo Penguin and James Taylor Quartet to the intimate venue – but what’s in store for year five?

The opening night unfortunately falls casualty to the squalls of Storm Doris as Thursday’s headliners Sons Of Kemet are unable to attend. For those attending that means they are instead treated to an extended performance by Liverpool-based BLIND MONK TRIO, who can be best described as eastern-bop-cinematic-alt-jazz. Led by tenor saxophonist Bob Whittaker, who has been heavily involved in the rising Liverpool jazz scene for a number of years, Blind Monk Trio present a modern spin on the classic chordless trio format, with influences spanning the history of the jazz genre – from Sonny Rollins to Joe Henderson and Avishai Cohen – blended with dark cinematic grooves and eastern folk. Their extended performance takes in highlights from their clown-fearing 2014 album Coulrophobia (Empire State Of Mime), and A Single Petal Of A Rose from their latest album In Search Of The Uncanny Valley.

Liverpool International Jazz Festival 2017 Image 7

With the winds now suitably becalmed, Friday is opened by WANDERING MONSTER, who, having only formed in 2014, have already been crowned winners of Jazz North’s Introducing scheme. Led by Leeds College of Music graduate Sam Quintana, the quintet is completed by Andy French (Tenor Sax), Calvin Travers (Guitar), Aleks Podraza (Piano/Keys) and Tom Higham (Drums). Performing Shark Ride, Hot Ride and The Rush Begins, Podraza’s soulful piano playing stands out alongside a dazzling drum solo from Higham. Wandering Monsters’ modern jazz sound is the perfect hors d’oeuvre for the marvellous MAMMAL HANDS, the Manchester-based trio who are signed to Matthew Halsall’s Gondwana Records. Their mesmerising set showcases their hypnotic fusion of jazz, folk and electronica to stunning effect, and leaves us in little doubt as to who the stand out artist of the weekend is. Like-minds Nick Smart (Piano), Jesse Barrett (Drums, Percussion) and Jordan Smart (Saxophones) have gained a well-deserved following since Mammal Hands met in 2012 while busking in Norwich. Brothers Nick and Jordan had previously played together as an electronic duo, but with the addition of Barrett they have developed a distinctive sound inspired by their love for electronic, contemporary classical, world and jazz music. Mammal Hands’ distinguishing sound can be attributed to various influences; Barrett brings a unique approach to the drums by blending intricate and complex Indian rhythmic patterns, having previously studied with tabla maestro Sirishkumar Manji. Jordan’s admiration of DJ culture and folk music from around the world are blended with the influences of Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane, while his brother Nick’s knowledge of classical jazz harmonies – alongside his interest in minimalist composers such as Terry Riley, Steve Reich and LaMonte Young – inform his compositional piano playing, forming some hypnotic patterns for the trio to build upon. Mammal Hands treat the audience to a mood-shifting experience with their thoughtfully inimitable compositions, which include a selection of tracks such as Hourglass, Kudu, Kandaiki and Shift from their latest albums Floa and Animalia. The spontaneity and interplay of their bassless music is at times melancholic, while occasionally straying into explosive and frantic offshoots.

Liverpool International Jazz Festival 2017 Image 7

Saturday continues to impress a full house, with Liverpool-based Norwegian drummer VIKTOR NORDBERG setting the bar high with his trio who perform a mixture of familiar and previously unheard music from his upcoming release. Starting the performance with First Things, this is then followed by Last Breath and Follow Up, with the personal highlight being Tiny Superheroes which Viktor dedicates to his three-year-old son.

Saturday’s concert headliner, DAVID HELBOCK TRIO, showcase their eccentric amalgam of piano, drums and bass ukulele with an exceptional performance that commences with Beethoven’s 7th Symphony for piano. Led by Austrian pianist David Helbock, whom having studied classical piano under Ferenc Bognar at the Feldkirch Conservatory, later became a private student of the New York jazz pianist Peter Madsen. The hotshot piano trio includes Helbock alongside bass ukulele player Raphael Preushcel and drummer Reinhold Schmolzer; they go on to perform a fantastic set featuring tracks Louverture, The World Needs More Heroes, The Soul and Mother Earth from their latest album Into The Mystic. The evening ends with a rousing encore of Star Wars Theme which goes down a storm, unlike Doris two days prior.

LIJF draws to a close on Sunday with a brilliant two-part performance by NEIL COWLEY TRIO, who have built an international following since forming in 2006. Led by UK jazz pianist Neil Cowley alongside double bassist Rex Horan and drummer Evan Jenkins, the first part of their evening performance sees back-to-back tracks from their latest album Spacebound Apes, including Governance and The City In The Stars. Following a brief interlude, we’re royally entertained with Rooster Was A Witness and Fable from their 2012 record The Face Of Mount Molehill. And as the gusts subside, the curtain falls on another successfully eclectic festival that demonstrates the rude health of the contemporary jazz scene in the UK. Far from being the preserve of chin-strokers and traditionalists, this is a genre of music that is truly taking massive strides forward right now. Long may it continue.

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