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Article XI + Favourite Animals  -  Sun Dec 10, 2017  |  07:45 pm
We end 2017 with two amazing large ensembles that emerged from Jazz Festival commissions.

’Article XI’ was put together by guitarist Anton Hunter for the 2014 Manchester Festival, with an approach that starts from the band members’ individual voices as improvisers and builds the composition around these elements. The outcome was described in ‘The Wire’ as offering “grand, sweeping charts and modal moods that find ample room for individual voices to be heard”. Which is just as well, for this is a roll call of some of the most exciting voices on the UK scene today.

One of the voices belongs to saxophonist Cath Roberts, described as “quite possibly the hardest working musician on the UK scene right now”, and proving this by leading the 10-piece Favourite Animals. The group was assembled for a one-off at last year’s Lancaster Jazz Festival, when it was called “Cath Roberts’ Large Ensemble” . . . but it was such a success that everybody agreed they should record an album and go on tour . . . which meant finding a catchier title. No problem: the line-up is drawn from Cath’s favourite musicians, and when they play they really are animals (sometimes cuddly, sometimes ferocious)!

The music builds on areas Cath had explored with her quintet Sloth Racket, described by one critic as “an agreeably spicy goulash of free improvisation, grumpy riffs and bluesy themes”. With the doubling in size, the riffs got riffier, the themes took on a deeper shade of blue, and the improvised passages move from intimate whisperings to glorious cacophony. You might catch echoes of Mingus, Brötzmann, or William Parker’s large groups, but these are only echoes . . . Favourite Animals are most definitely doing Cath’s, and their own, gloriously original thing.

Tickets for this gig are available from Reflex CDs (0191 260 3246) or online from