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Newcastle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music 2022 – Day 4 Report

Newcastle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music 2022

(Sunday 2 October. Day 4 Report by AJ Dehany)

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If you’re in Newcastle on a Sunday, you need to be at the Globe on Railway Street. Their Sunday night concerts boast some impressive programming. In spring 2022 Jazz North East presented a series including Joe McPhee and Steve Noble, Binker Golding with Edwards and Noble, Sloth Racket, Lucid Dreamers, Trish Clowes, the Ligeti Quartet, and Arun Ghosh. The final afternoon of the Newcastle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music took in a more relaxed blend of vocal jazz, violin revery and party music, ideally poised to breeze away the cobwebs and top up the energy levels of over-stimulated bodies and minds.

Zoe Gilby and Andy Chapman. Publicity photo

Zoë Gilby is a classic jazz voice with a unique Northumbrian inflection and a talent that appeals to all tastes. Her trio with guitarist Mark Williams and bassist Andy Champion augmented by trumpeter Noel Dennis performed selections from Aurora, her most recent album of tunes by US trumpeter Tom Harrell with her own original lyrics. Her four albums of sophistically arranged vocal jazz ease into that rare territory occupied by such as Joni Mitchell – accessible and pleasing on the ear but always interesting and absorbing. Zoë Gilby is an abiding figure in the Northern scene who deserves wider attention.

The duo of John Garner on violin and John Pope on double bass originated in free playing but now specialises in twentieth-century jazz-associated composers. Previewing material from their forthcoming album Water Music they unlaced deep cuts by such as Ornette Coleman, Anthony Braxton, Jeanne Lee, Carla Bley and Misha Mengelberg – which might sound a bit forbidding but these obvious pals play with lightness, delicacy, spontaneous energy, and good humour. “We’re gonna play tune roulette and see if we can find each other” speaks to their confident freeforming synergy, but to find each other implies that at any point they might have lost each other, which was not evident. They entertained each others’ musical jokes including Mildred and Patty Hill’s well-nourished theme ‘Good Morning To You’ (which might be more familiar to some as Happy Birthday). Whichever two people it was dedicated to must have been happy about that, and the duo’s open-hearted appeal extended to a moving mix of two tunes in timely solidarity with the peoples of Iran and Palestine. 

Dilutey Juice really impressed me; I was dreading a ‘party band’ but this is one superior groove machine. The quartet reminded me of Sons of Kemet, with the same alchemical fusion of grooves, memorable themes, riffing, and edge-of-your-pants soloing, with exhausting energy. Having begun as a busking band (which must have been a hell of a thing to see round Eldon Square on a Saturday afternoon) they’ve refined it to a tight format with Thomas Dixon on sax, Billy Bradshaw on trumpet, Lewis Wilkinson rocking the b-lines on the sousaphone, and ridiculously good drummer Ben Fitzgerald. A beast of a band, they just make life better. 

The final evening of the festival returned us to that other stalwart and spiritual home of the cultural scene, the Lit & Phil Library, to round it all off with more appeal to purer conceptions of sound as sound as sound. Bex Burch and Leafcutter John make total sense as a duo: a simpatico percussion discussion without genre and dwelling on sound and space, enfolding his electronic wizardry and inventions, and her traditional and ethnic instrumentation. The signature idiom is that meeting of cosmic expansive electronic soundscapes bedded into the earthier percussion of the Gyil and gong. The sophistication of John’s soundscapes made from electronic manipulations was at times not well complemented by some very blocky drums and gourds and irritating shakers. But as with Bex Burch’s most familiar group Vula Viel with bass god Ruth Goller, here as there she has a nice way of employing simple repeating rhythms on the limited pentatonic palette of the Ghanean Gyil xylophone with skips and fluctuations in tempo and phrasing that disturb the revery without betraying the mood. 

John scrunching and popping packing paper around the mic was a classic Leafcutter trope of employing familiar or everyday objects to create wacky sounds (you’ll recall with Polar Bear he used to do sax-sounding solos by releasing air out of balloons). His table of fun things this time was dominated by an extraordinary metal box made out of a Moog casing with wires and door-springs jutting out, sometimes shimmering and clangorous, sometimes caustic, abrasive and sclerotic. Their sound is remarkable for being so densely electronic but fervently organic. Spacious and unhurried, they made for a charming break from other prevailingly dense and hectic performances. 

The closing set could only have been Shifa, the free trio of superb saxophonist Rachel Musson, superlative textural drummer Mark Sanders, and another hero of the weekend Pat Thomas, rounding off a busy trip for him following sets by Black Top and an appearance in Martin Archer’s epochal Anthropology Band. The fulsome full-on attack in his solos during that set, way back in the mists of Day 1 of the festival, brought great excitement and will always come to my mind when I think of a definition of ‘free jazz piano’. I’m not always totally convinced by all that flat-palming he does, but when the flames ignite there’s no putting them out.

AJ Dehany writes about music, art and stuff. 

LINK: NFoJaIM website

Shifa ar NFoJaIM. L-R: Pat Thomas, Rachel Musson, Mark Sanders. Photo copyright Ken Drew

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