PREVIEW: Gateshead International Jazz Festival at Sage, Gateshead on 10th-12th April 2015

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Jazz. Nice. It’s the oft rolled out cliché by those not familiar with the genre, which is fair enough, it is nice. Whether you are died in the wool jazzer, are jazz curious, or hate jazz, there is something for you at the Gateshead International Jazz festival 2015. Well, maybe not if you hate jazz, if you hate jazz perhaps this preview isn’t for you.

Let’s start at the business end, who’s playing? Well, before I get to the headline acts (and they are ALL headline acts) I should tell you that this is a two-way street. There are plenty of opportunities for you to get involved, whether you play well, or like me, badly, you can join in with one of several jam sessions and workshops taking place during the day at the Sage or late at night at the Globe pub and the Jazz Café, naturally. The one on Saturday afternoon with Iain Bellamy looks particularly interesting, you don’t need to be able to read music (this is jazz), but you do need £25. If you don’t play or sing, there are talks taking place on a variety of subjects relating to jazz (of course), you can find details on the Sage Gateshead’s website.

It might seem that some of the prices for some of the gigs are quite high, I’m afraid that’s just the way these cats roll these days, but don’t worry, you can extract full value for money by making the most of all the free music being played on the concourse. The bands performing there are nothing short of brilliant and will have you piqued and ready for Hall 1 and 2 and the jazz lounge, you might even feel you don’t need to go in! On the Friday the New York Brass Band kick us off with their arrangements and originals (it’s the North East New York by the way, not the Big Apple), later on the wonderful guitar duo of James Birkett and Bradley Johnston will calm your nerves. On the Saturday there will be various acts through the afternoon, until 6.30pm, when a personal favourite of mine, the unquestionably brilliant King Bee will most definitely put the willies up the headline acts with their excellent vibe-infused brand of jazz funk. Later that evening, appearing twice in fact, will be Svarc Hanley Longhawn, a very talented trio who remind me of EST (but with a guitar rather than a bass) or perhaps a slightly mellower Kazumi Watanabe. Saturday on the concourse is going to be smashing. Sunday sees the Sage’s own outstanding youth jazz orchestra Jambone team up with Beats and Pieces to bring what will surely be a loud and enjoyable repertoire, this will be another winner.

You Are Not Alone by Svarc Hanley Longhawn

The festival is split into early and late shows, so I’ll start with the early ones and move onto the late ones. There’s so much on, the festival may have finished before I’m done writing this! I am very excited to see the remarkable double bill of Dave Sanborn followed by John Scofield and Jon Cleary in Hall 1. David Sanborn is one of the world’s leading saxophone players; I have been a fan ever since playing one of his classic compositions ‘Maputo’ as a youngster. Extremely polished, his band is the epitome of tightness and his searing sax will permeate even the toughest of hearts. They are followed immediately by the legendary jazz fusion guitarist John Scofield, with the superb Jon Cleary (keys), who has worked with Geordie luminary Eric Burdon in the past. This promises to be an incredible gig featuring some really really hot jazz biscuits. Bring your sunglasses. In Hall 2 you can see Stan Tracey’s ‘Under Milk Wood’, which sounds very interesting. Sadly Stan is no longer with us, but several members of the Tracey family are present, including Ben Tracey, his grandson, who will narrate the work by Dylan Thomas. The pre-concert talk at 6.30 should also be enlightening.

Maputo (Live) by the Dave Sanborn Band

Saturday is absolutely jam-packed. No pun intended. Kicking off the afternoon is someone described as a creative genius by Chick Corea no less, fusing jazz and classical styles Gwilym Simcock will be joined by the Royal Northern Sinfonia for a one-off spectacular. It sounds very cerebral, but is actually something everybody can enjoy and perhaps something a bit different. Running simultaneously in the Jazz Lounge (between hall one and hall two) is the gig for the smart phone generation. Tin Men And The Telephone bring a family show, suitable for ages 6 and up, in which audience members can actually dictate the direction they take from an app on their phone! Remarkable! What would Glenn Miller say…?

Tin Men And The Telephone

The early evening gigs have concocted something of a dilemma for me, being a huge fan of acid jazz I simply couldn’t miss the opportunity to see one of the world’s best Hammond organ players James Taylor and his funky quartet, more than just Starsky and Hutch, this guy is the real deal. Not only that, but this double bill features UK Soul diva and all-round talented lady, Ruby Turner. I’m not sure if the JTQ will be her backing, I guess we’ll have to wait and see! The reason this was such a dilemma is that in Hall 2 at the same time, yet another fabulous sax player is performing. Joshua Redman is gaining increasing popularity in the jazz sphere and his energetic trio featuring Rueben Rogers (b) and Greg Hutchison (dr) is sure to be an intense and technically superb gig. As if that wasn’t enough, some of the finest jazz musicians in Newcastle will be performing in the Jazz Lounge from 7.45. It really is a shame that the human ear hasn’t developed a triple pipe system, because if it had, one pipe would be enjoying the amazing voice of Zoe Gilby, along with piano maestro Paul Edis, double bass ginger behemoth Andy Champion and the cracking drummer Adrian Tilbrook, who are then followed by another superb songstress in Alice Zawadzki, who will bring something a bit different and free spirited. She might also bring her violin, which is great if you a jazz violin fan (I’m not, I think I’ve mentioned that before, ed.).

Final Hour by Joshua Redman

Sunday finishes a little earlier than Friday and Saturday, I guess it’s a school night, but it is no less exciting. If you need waking up after a late night on Saturday, then The Cookers will most certainly do that for you. Their hard-bop message will have your senses restored poste haste. After a pre-concert talk (1pm) the band with nearly three centuries of experience between them will blow you away. Or, you have another chance to get your phone out in the jazz lounge. The evening concerts throw up yet another triple dilemma. If I was ever pushed into revealing the one album that I could listen to for the rest of time, the finest album I have ever owned, it would have to be Andy Sheppard’s ‘Delivery Suite’, unfortunately it’s not available as a hard copy any more, and disappointingly for me, he has never produced anything in that style again, but as a saxophonist, and a north easterner, he is superlatively good. I have a feeling this gig might be along those big brassy lines however, as he is accompanied by the incredible Loose Tubes and the effervescent Rita Marcotulli on piano, adding a touch of Italian class. Andy Sheppard opened the Millennium bridge, and he is one part of the closing of the 2015 Gateshead Jazz Festival. The other two parts come from improvisationalists Sleth Racket, with Cath Roberts at the helm, bringing brand new, literally, jazz to Gateshead. They will be closely followed by Musson-Kjaer-Marshall, an all female trio who will venture North from London to the jazz lounge, again giving us a display of masterful, or mistressful jazz improvisation. If you’d prefer to end with a bit of a dance, then Hall 2 have the eagerly anticipated return of Davina and the Vagabonds for you. Playing some neat jazz and blues from New Orleans via Dakota this is bound to leave you panting for breath and on a high as you head home. Like I said, a wonderful dilemma!

Like Life (Live) by Loose Tubes

So, in the strange way I’ve organised this preview I will move on the late night offerings on Saturday, and first, Friday. There are two very different gigs happening on Friday night. In Hall one we have the first opportunity to see the latest male voice to cause a stir on the jazz circuit, Jarrod Lawson. Definitely not traditional, he spins a modern twist on jazz and could be the kind of artist to continue to draw in the younger fans to this beautiful genre of music. He has a strong jazz voice and a very impressive band behind him, a great end to the first night of the festival. Alternatively, very alternatively, the jazz lounge has an extraordinary synthesis of jazz and opera when Hakon Kornstad schizophrenically battles with himself, playing tenor saxophone while somehow also singing opera from Puccini and Verdi among others. This will be VERY interesting!

Saturday night doesn’t get any easier for the indecisive. The Necks take up the Hall 2 stage, making the huge journey from down under to be here. Possibly inspired by the vast expanses of Australian outback, they take the audience on a wave-like expedition; building slowly and taking their time they create a sound dense enough to easily fill the venue, a great achievement considering there are only three of them. This is a chance to close your eyes and be taken away into your subconscious, maybe a bit dangerous for some. Beats and Pieces in the Jazz Lounge will take you on an altogether different journey. They really put the big into big band. Phat sounds and carefully arranged pieces form the cornerstone of this Manchester based group. Blending elements of traditional big band music with modern beats and not afraid to rock out with a shredding guitar solo, these guys will inspire the musician in everyone with some scintillating solos from their wealth of talented band members. Although they are young, they sound like an experienced and well-drilled collection of fine instrumentalists, I’ll definitely be heading to this gig! If you miss them, they’ll be performing on the concourse with Jambone on Sunday too (but I’d try to make this gig if I were you).

Queen Spark (Live) by Beats And Pieces

If you were on the fence about whether to attend this year I would implore you to stick your neck out and try to get along to something. This is a superb event and some of the performances you see will stay with you forever. You don’t need to ‘understand’ jazz, jazz isn’t a clique, it doesn’t shut anyone out, it is cool music, featuring people who have dedicated their lives to perfecting their art. I’m looking forward to seeing you there, sunglasses on, roll neck jumpers optional.

Previewer: Joe Fowler

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