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Cambridge Jazz Festival 2023: Our interview with A Certain Ratio and guide to the free events

Manchester legends A Certain Ratio are determined not to get stuck performing nostalgic greatest hits tours like many of their contemporaries who started out with them on Factory Records in the 70s.

They are heading to the Cambridge Jazz Festival, but won’t be pinned down to any one genre - each album shapeshifting through post punk, funk, jazz, indie and even electronica.

A Certain Ratio: Picture by NEOMR Media/Marta Ruly
A Certain Ratio: Picture by NEOMR Media/Marta Ruly

Guitarist Martin Moscrop reckons that not sticking to one particular style that they coined back in the last century has been a double-edged sword for the group, who are celebrating 45 years of recording together this year, but it’s also what keeps him coming back to make more music.

“It must be so boring for bands who just play the same tunes year in year out and don’t go in the studio to make any new music,” says Martin. “I really don't understand how they can do it. The whole point of music is about being creative, you know? You wouldn't get an artist who paints the same picture over and over again. Why do the same thing with music? It's important to keep moving forward. And one of the things about A Certain Ratio, which is probably one of the limits to our success, has been that we're ever evolving and changing.

A Certain Ratio. Picture: Paul Husband
A Certain Ratio. Picture: Paul Husband

“A lot of artists who are successful will have success with a certain sound and a certain style and then all their records will be like that for years to come. Even with the new stuff they build on that success. Oasis aren't going anymore, but they've got the same sound in all their songs and it gives the fans something to latch on to. Whereas with A Certain Ratio you could play someone two tracks off our EPs that were released in 2021 and they wouldn’t know it was the same band. We can have a really straight ahead jazz tune and then electronic tune on the same record.”

The band is playing the Cambridge Jazz Festival this week as part of a unique tour celebrating 45 years of their incredible career.

It’s double the fun for ACR fans as the band will perform two sets on the night. The first one pays tribute to their early years from their Factory releases, including All Night Party, Sextet and Force, through to when they joined A&M in the late ‘80s, with songs such as Won’t Stop Loving You.

Their next set explores their output from the early to mid-‘90s, to their most recent releases. Expect 27 Forever along with tracks from ACR Loco, 1982 and beyond to unreleased forthcoming material from 2023 EP. It’s a chance to see this most singular of bands performing tracks spanning their career – all in chronological order.

​Martin says: “Every album we make is a collection of our influences and what's inspired us. We listen to such a big variety of music and that comes out in the recorded material. As far as gigs and festivals go, in the past few years we played Womad, which is a world music festival. We played an indie festival. We played a bit of a punk festival in Portugal this year. And then we played a reggae festival a couple of years ago. We have played jazz festivals .There isn't a genre that we don't really fit into.”

Since emerging from the the late 70s punk scene, A Certain Ratio have moved with gleeful disregard for boundaries of style and genre. Ranging from experimental electronica to vintage funk, filtered through their own Mancunian lens, they defy expectations.

“One of the things I dislike is going into a record shop and seeing us in the indie section,” says Martin.

“I think, what have you put us in the indie section for? But then you think well, what section should they put us in? And there isn't one, really. So I suppose the fact that we were on Factory Records for a short period of our career always means that we can be categorised as an indie band.

“We keep inspired by constantly looking for new ideas looking for new things to do. By going to lots of gigs to see other bands and other new bands. I've been to quite a few festivals this year. I just love going and watching other bands by buying music.”

A Certain Ratio perform at Cambridge Junction on Friday, November 17 as part of Cambridge Jazz Festival. Doors open at 7pm. Tickets are priced £25.50 at junction.co.uk.

Cambridge Jazz Festival’s free events

The annual Cambridge Jazz Festival has launched this week, bringing a fresh blast of jazz, funk, blues and soul to Cambridge and the surrounding areas, and the Cambridge Independent is proud to be supporting it.

As it does every year, the festival has created a series of free events alongside the ticketed headline concerts, so that everyone can enjoy a range of first-class jazz performances.

Roslin Russell, co-founder and co-director of the Cambridge Jazz Festival said: “We’re delighted to be offering this series of free fringe events. Our fundamental goal at Cambridge Jazz Festival is to nurture new talent and promote jazz to as wide an audience as possible. We’re keen that cost is not a barrier to anyone who wants to come along and listen and enjoy this wonderful musical artform.”

Here is a small selection of gigs definitely worth heading out to on a chilly November evening:

- Lepage Dean, November 16, 8pm, La Raza – Ollie Lepage Dean released his first Album Home Sweet Home in 2020, with its official launch marked by a sold-out live performance at Pizza Express Soho in February. Ollie returns to La Raza with a mix of funk and soul tunes from his first album and new material.

- Temor with strings, November 19, 9pm, The Brewery, Jesus College – Temor are a fresh new talent in the UK jazz scene based in Cambridge. Their music is a blend of classic jazz with groove, drawing on heavy Classical and Latin-American influences. This concert for Cambridge Jazz Festival shows off the group’s versatility, depth and willingness to experiment. Expect a high-level of musicianship and exciting original repertoire in this innovative new project.

- Vij Prakash/Phil Stevenson Duo, November 22, 9pm, The Architect – Long-time musical collaborators, Vij Prakash and Phil Stevenson, have worked extensively in the jazz, funk and pop worlds alongside artists such as Myles Sanko, YolanDa Brown and All Saints. They bring a mix of jazz, funk, samba and original music to The Architect in an intimate duo setting.

- Big Band Bonanza, November 25, 3.30pm, Storey’s Field Centre – Come and party through the decades from swing to funk with two fabulous big bands, Cambridge Groove Orchestra and Linton Jazz Orchestra.

- Ted Morcaldi Trio, November 26, 8pm, La Raza – Definitely not one to miss out on! Ted Morcaldi is an American guitarist and rising star leading a new trio with bassist Joel Humann and drummer Joshua Blackmore. Their repertoire is expanding with new compositions inspired by modern harmonies and sonically textured improvisations that take influence from Fourth World music. Mixed with compositions by Paul Motion, John Abercrombie, Collin Walcott, David Bowie and Joni Mitchell, it makes for an exciting range of music from this group.

Join in with a jam session

In addition to the above performances there are also jazz jam sessions, including the CamJam on November 21 from 8pm at The Emperor, and the Jazz Funk Jam on November 23 from 8pm at La Raza. All instruments and singers welcome – just turn up and play your favourite tune or just come along and watch the fun. The house band opens each jam and then jammers can participate for most of the night with the house band closing the night.

Check out a movie

Finally, there is also an opportunity to see Nick Wells’ latest film, Walking the Changes: Legends of Double Bass in Jazz at the Cambridge Junction, 3.15pm, on November 25, for free. Be it the musical expression of Dave Holland, the melodic phrasing of Scott LaFaro, the inventiveness of Charles Mingus or the flawless technique and artistry of Ray Brown, in jazz, as in most music, the bass is the bottom line.

Walking the changes centres around pivotal moments in the history of the double bass in jazz. Featuring exclusive interviews with the bass players who’ve pushed the boundaries of rhythm-section playing, elevating the instrument from a mere time-keeping role to visionary composers and improvisers. With never-before-seen performance footage, studio outtakes and rare photos, this film unpacks the music of the best jazz bassists of all time.

The film will be followed by a Q&A with Nick and bassist Tiago Coimbra.

Visit cambridgejazzfestival.info for more.

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