Alun Richards enjoys some genre-blurring performances at the Northern Quarter’s most exciting jazz night
Every time I go to the Wonder Inn they seem to have added a new section. It’s like a modular bohemian grotto. To reach tonight’s event we head to the back of the bar, turn right into a long, narrow room vaguely resembling a Viking feasting hall, pass through a curtained doorway and make a U-turn, at which point we find ourselves in an area strewn with tables and chairs, in true jazz-club style. Fairy lights and paper lanterns dangle from the ceiling, and the windows are partially obscured by enormous dreamcatchers. Only the biggest and jazziest dreams get caught in their nets.
There are two bands on the bill this evening, both from Manchester. The first, Apes Grapes, consisting of guitar, bass and drums, have the look of a classic rock trio. The sound they make is another matter entirely. What begins as a tuneful folk piece gradually morphs, through atmospheric echo and looping effects, into a moody, Bitches Brew-style groove. It’s an engrossing performance, so much so that it’s not until the end, when the audience bursts into surprisingly loud applause, that we realise about twenty people have crept in behind us. A quick reorganisation of the furniture is followed by two more compositions, the first a driving fusion track and the second a more-or-less uncategorisable eight-minute prog/jazz/math-rock epic called Blow Up, Zoom In!. For the curious, there’s a good video of it here.
Up next is Plume, a quartet fronted by singer Caroline Hendry. They’re a bit less scattergun in their musical approach, playing a sort of intricately textured trip-hop, full of rhythmical interplay. Hendry’s vocals drift in and out of the mix, repeating lyrics and melodies in mantra-like fashion, and each song segues smoothly into the next, giving the impression of a single long-form composition slowly unfurling. While they don’t quite match Apes Grapes for intensity, they succeed in creating a slow-burning, hypnotic atmosphere that is equally compelling.
The bands round off the evening by combining forces (under the name ‘Plum Grapes’) to perform a specially written track based on Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood. It’s a satisfying finale, proceeding in ebbs and flows as three closely related rhythmic motifs are layered with electronic textures and vocals. It also underlines the exciting collaborative and genre-blurring character of the night. Here are two groups, each operating at the edges of jazz, coming together to improvise around a minimalist composition – a collision of trip-hop, fusion and twentieth-century classical music. With Mondays like this, who needs the weekend?
Jazz at the Wonder Inn runs most Mondays from 8pm
Monday 23 January
Exciting, collaborative and genre-blurring