Jon Cleary and John Scofield followed by David Sanborn at Gateshead Jazz Festival at Sage, Gateshead on 10th April 2015

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This was a great amuse bouche for the Gateshead International Jazz Festival. The duo took to the stage to rapturous applause and launched straight into some rip snortin’ blues numbers.

Jon Cleary can not only play some outstanding piano, but can sing with the best of them too. John Scofield was statesmanlike and practiced with his blues guitar, without ever showing off. Something I’ve noticed with blues guitarists is that when they reach a certain status and with a certain amount of experience they shake off the need to impress with quick and intricate solos, instead focussing on melody, form and function. Perhaps more for the connoisseur, I sometimes found his solos a little stunted, stopping and starting, but never was I in any doubt that he is a master of his trade.

Jon Cleary’s piano style reminded me at times of Uncle Albert from Only fools and Horses, I felt like I was in a dingy east end pub in London, which wasn’t a bad thing, it was fun! The songs they played were full of audience participation, and even the constant comings and goings of poorly organised festival goers (the festival goers were poorly organised, not the festival, which has been brilliantly orchestrated) couldn’t dampen the feel-good atmosphere within the well-populated Sage Hall One.

You could have accused the songs of being a little clichéd at times, but such was the skill on show it became a moot point. Jon Cleary clearly seemed able to channel the likes of Dr John and Ray Charles in both his vocals and his piano playing. A great start to the festival, it certainly whet the appetite for David Sanborn who was to follow.

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David Sanborn is 70 years old, but plays the saxophone like a 30 year old. Energetic and rapid, he blows his horn with verve and gusto, a joy to behold. He was backed up by some wonderful musicians, really top class.

Ricky Peterson was effervescent on keys, but I did become a bit annoyed by the constant changes of sounds, sometimes a fake flute sound, sometimes a fake horn section, I preferred it when he stuck to the fake Hammond or the piano sound, nevertheless his ability as a keyboardist is unquestionable.

Micky Morota had the unenviable task of following John Scofield, but was more than solid, with some great solos. For me though, the next three artists almost stole the show from Mr Sanborn.

On a couple of occasions there were superb drum breaks, Chris Coleman, a regular with Chaka Khan, epitomised power and had an almost telepathic relationship with the percussionist who’s name I didn’t manage to catch (Paolo something?).

Then, just as the show was closing up stepped Andrew Berry with one of the best bass solos I think I’ve ever seen. I haven’t seen slapping that fast since I witnessed some reprobate ladies in the Bigg Market some imaginary time ago…simply breath-taking.

Perhaps unfortunately for David Sanborn, it will be Chris Coleman and Andrew Berry I eulogise to my friends about after this gig. Having said that, the moment of the night for me was a magical rendition of Marcus Miller’s ‘Maputo’. In Japanese, there is a word, ‘natsukashi’ which means basically ‘nostalgia’, a memory of good times in the past. I used to play ‘Maputo’ in the Northumberland County Youth Jazz Orchestra and it was exactly as I remembered it (although perhaps played a bit better). Other members of that band from circa 1998 will I’m sure share the poignancy of that memory.

Finishing with an encore of ‘The Dream’ I was ready for bed, it had been an excellent opening to the festival and Messrs’ Cleary, Scofield and Sanborn can slap each other on their respective backs for a job well done.

Reviewer: Joe Fowler

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