Sunday 9 January 2022, 8pm
Both stalwarts of Manchester’s creative music scene, Adam and Johnny’s piano/drums duo was first established as a vehicle to explore early jazz forms through an avant garde lens – something for which this combination is perfectly suited, being a favoured format in both Harlem stride and free music. Their latest project explores the repertoire and idiom of groundbreaking Trinidadian pianist Winifred Atwell, a much neglected figure of 1950s British popular music.
Atwell was enormously popular in Britain and Australia in the post-war era, selling over 20 million records, yet she is barely a footnote in jazz histories and histories of popular music. In a sense, her music falls between stools; containing too little improvisation to be regarded as ‘genuinely’ jazz, but too much a part of the murky pre-rock era of popular music to be considered by pop histories.
Nonetheless, Atwell forged a pioneering career as a Black female instrumentalist – she was the first Black person to have a no.1 hit in the UK. Her music brought together aspects of the honky tonk piano craze sweeping America with the music hall and pub piano traditions of Britain, resonating deeply with the mid-century revivals of ragtime and traditional jazz in both the US and the UK, and making boogie and ragtime household sounds. In this sense Atwell was a nexus point of various streams of transatlantic popular music.
Over the past decade, Adam Fairhall has forged a reputation internationally as a jazz pianist and improviser of exceptional versatility. He is based near Manchester, England, and highly active on that city’s burgeoning creative music scene. In Adam’s playing, idioms drawn from any period of jazz history may be blended, collided, subverted, hinted at or played completely ‘straight’. His aim is to place his deep knowledge of jazz piano techniques, from ragtime to free jazz, at the service of playful, spontaneous invention, within a freewheeling and sometimes rough-edged improvisational style that creates its own momentum and energy
Adam’s 2012 release under his own name, The Imaginary Delta (SLAM), was named Album of the Year by influential US blog Bird Is The Worm, and revealed a deep understanding of early jazz and the ways in which it can connect to free jazz and contemporary idioms. He continued this synthesis in his 2017 solo piano album, Friendly Ghosts (Efpi), while his 2019 live EP, Little Instruments (also on Efpi), hears him using four different portable keyboard instruments – the Dulcitone, single reed free-bass accordion, toy piano and harmonium – developing a unique musical language for each. In addition to his solo projects, Fairhall co-leads organ trio Revival Room with Mark Hanslip & Johnny Hunter, and is widely known as the pianist in Nat Birchall’s Coltrane-inspired band and as a free improviser with such acclaimed groups as The Spirit Farm.
Johnny Hunter is a northern UK-based drummer and composer who comes from a background of both the Avant-Garde and the more mainstream Jazz. His own “chordless” quartet, set up to explore the freedom and limitations of having no chordal instrument, has been recorded and broadcast by BBC Radio 3, and has performed across the country in notable venues such as London’s Ronnie Scott’s, the Manchester Jazz Festival, Birmingham Jazzlines at Symphony Hall, Liverpool International Jazz Festival, among many others. He also leads the piano trio Fragments, originally a workshop band formed to research and develop new approaches to improvising and composing for improvisers.
In 2018, he took part in Sound and Music’s New Voices programme which allowed him to compose an extended piece for a large ensemble of improvising musicians. He has also written works for various other ensembles, including Pale Blue Dot, a piece for string quartet with tenor sax and drums; Now It Can Be Told, which brings his Post-rock influences to the forefront and investigates the use of electronics in Jazz; Backlash, a piece for improvising “marching band” with the line-up of piccolo, trumpet, trombone, euphonium, accordion and percussion. Outside of his own music, Johnny performs in many other groups including Cath Roberts’s Sloth Racket, John Pope Quintet, Nat Birchall, Engine Room Favourites, and Swiss-UK collaboration MoonMot.