Live review

Newcastle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music 2022 – Day 1 Report

Newcastle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music

(The Lit& Phil, Newcastle. Day 1: Thursday 29 September 2022. Festival Report by Peter Slavid)

Two LJN writers, Peter Slavid and AJ Dehany, jointly covered the innovative NFoJaIM Festival in Newcastle. Links to their other pieces below.

This unique festival plays to a small but loyal and very enthusiastic audience, and focuses very much on the improvised end of the music. The venue is the beautiful historic library of the The Literary & Philosophical Society in the centre of Newcastle.

In fact this wasn’t the first day of the full festival – that took place the previous weekend in another part of Newcastle, but the majority of the festival runs over this long weekend.

L-R: Dave Sturt, Martin Archer and Charlotte Keeffe of the Anthropology Band. Photo copyright Ken Drew

The featured band on this first day was that rarely seen beast, the Anthropology Band : Martin Archer (Saxophones) / Charlotte Keeffe (Trumpet) / Orphy Robinson (Xylosynth) / Pat Thomas (Keyboards) / Chris Sharkey (Guitar) / Anton Hunter (Guitar) / Dave Sturt (Bass Guitar) / Adam Fairclough (Drums)

Gathering this eight piece band from all corners of the country and getting them on tour is a massive undertaking by Martin Archer (whilst managing his Discus record label in his spare time). The effort is worthwhile because this is an outstanding collection of improvising musicians.

The music is loud and powerful, and in the small venue it was almost, but not quite overwhelming. The more so because it followed the much quieter sounds of the solo guitar of Mark Solborg.

There was a fair bit of theatre in the performance. Martin Archer wandered pointedly around the stage offering comments (or maybe instructions?). At times Pat Thomas almost demolished the venue’s piano with his joyful percussive playing. In the final number Chris Sharkey went full-on Jimi Hendrix – playing on his back, lying on the speakers and clambering over furniture – everything short of demolishing his guitar.

Even without the theatrical flourishes this is .dramatic and powerful music. Sparkling runs on the xylosynth from Orphy Robinson, powerful solos from Archer and Keeffe and from both guitarists, and strong shifting rhythms from the bass and drums.

In the past this band has been compared to the electric period of Miles Davis, and you can still hear some of that, but most of the melodies start with a trumpet/sax sound that owes more to the sound of Ornette Coleman.

Whatever the original influences this is a strongly individual band with its own personality and it’s great to see it back in operation.

Czajka & Puchacz at NFoJaIM 2022. Photo copyright Ken Drew

The first part of the programme featured a distinctive duo formed by Polish percussionist Szymon Gasiorek playing with Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler, who “after 13 years in Holland, now live(s) between Copenhagen, Denmark, and Trboje, Slovenia” . They call themselves Czajka & Puchacz. This was music that started out playfully with spiky percussive piano, interacting with intricate drumming and percussion. Gradually it became more serious with more electronics, some minimalist sections, and some dramatic and powerful drumming. But the intent to entertain was always there with some amusing vocal samples and even some fragments of melody.

An excellent first day of improvised music.

LINKS: NFoJaIM website

AJ Dehany’s report focused on Nicole Mitchell

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