Newcastle Jazz Festival 2021
Sadly I was unable to make it to the first day of the festival on Friday but the rest of the weekend was certainly a success and I had a very enjoyable time.
The Saturday and Sunday sessions all took place at Tyne Bank Brewery and Saturday kicked off with the duo of Alice Grace (vocals) and Pawel Jedrjezewski (guitar).
Alice acknowledges the great Norma Winstone as a key influence so it was hardly surprising to find a Kenny Wheeler tune in the set; Sweet Dulcinea Blue being given new original lyrics and beautifully rendered by the duo. Along with Dulcinea, the pair performed a thoughtful mix of originals as well as compositions by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Michael Kiwanuka which got the day off to melodic and pleasant start.
It's hardly surprising that Covid-19 made it's presence felt here, and with SogoRock having to cancel some last minute re-jigging of the schedule was called for. Festival
organisers Michael Lamb and Jamie Toms came up trumps with a hastily convened Francis Tulip Quartet.
Tulip is a recent graduate of Birmingham Conservatoire and his prodigious guitar skills were ably supported by fellow Birmingham alumnus Touyo Awala (keys), John Pope (bass) and John Bradford (drums) through a set that included tunes by Joe Henderson, Charlie Parker, Freddie Hubbard and rounded off with a fine, but all too brief reading of Coltrane's Impressions.
Unhindered by playing in a plaster cast having recently broken his ankle, Francis Tulip is most definitely one to watch for the future.
A complete change of style followed, with Swing Manouche delivering some good, old fashioned gypsy jazz, played with style and joie de vivre and all interspersed with leader Mick Shoulder's dry sense of humour.
Joining guitarist Shoulder were Danny Lowndes (guitar), Martin Winning (clarinet) and Paul Grainger (bass) for a set including classics such as Mystérieuse and Djangology as well as originals like Shoulder's Mr Polly. If the audience's feet weren't already tapping before this set, they certainly were by the end.
Jasmine are a Leeds based quintet currently benefitting from the support of Jazz North's Northern Line scheme. Led by Jasmine Whalley (alto sax, composition), Ben Haskins (guitar), Jasper Green (keys), Sam Quintana (bass) and George Hall (drums) the quintet played a set of new tunes, written during lockdown and confronting some major issues arising from the pandemic, not least mental health, and the music was sensitive but still had a lot of life and was played in a very accomplished manner by a group of fine young musicians. Another one to watch.
The afternoon's proceedings reached an explosive conclusion with Dennis Rollins' Velocity
Trio playing a selection of pieces from their albums The 11th Gate and Symbiosis. Dennis played in his usual, exuberant style, augmenting his trombone with an array of electronic effects and supported by Ross Stanley's Hammond B3 with twin Leslie speakers and Pedro Segundo's driving percussion this made for a very loud set, and was none the worse for it.
The trio were joined later in the set by the award winning Glasgow trombonist Anoushka Nanguy for versions of Roger Waters' Money and an encore of Dennis's composition Boneyard, with Anoushka demonstrating that she definitely has what it takes to make it to the top.
Velocity are a very difficult act to follow. However the organisers felt that local legend Mo Scott was the person to do it. And do you know what? I think they were right.
The quartet - Mo Scott (vocals), Dave Dryden (guitar), Keith Peberdy (bass guitar) and Paul Smith (drums) - started off a set of down and dirty blues with Devil Woman, Fever and Mercy, Mercy, Mercy all delivered with a slightly sleazy edge which was brilliant. Unfortunately my batteries had just about depleted and I had to call it a day at that point, which is a shame as I'd like to have seen the whole of their set.
Sunday afternoon's proceedings opened with a set by the Abbie Finn Trio.
The trio - Abbie Finn (drums), Harry Keeble (tenor sax) and Paul Grainger (bass) - played a lively set including Abbie's own composition Walkabout from the trio's album Northern Perspective as well as numbers by Chick Corea, Don Grolnick, Victor Feldman and a wonderful rendition of Mingus's Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.
Second up, another well known local outfit, the Gerry Richardson Quintet served up a mixture of old fashioned rhythm 'n' blues, soul and funk.
Richardson (Organ, vocals) was joined by Garry Linsley (alto sax), David Gray (trombone), Paul Smith (drums) and Graham Hare (congas, timbales). The quintet were a very tight unit with Garry Linsley and David Gray proving to be a very strong horn section. Whilst Gerry Richardson is certainly a more than capable organist, the same can't be said for his singing and the band's closing number - Bobby Hebb's Sunny - would have been far better as an instrumental with the melody entrusted to the horns.
One band that I particularly wanted to see at the Festival was Not Now Charlie. Having listened to some of their music on Bandcamp I thought that they would be an interesting live act, and they didn't disappoint. Led by Jamie Toms (tenor sax) joined by Pawel Jedrzejewski (guitar), Richard Campbell (piano), Liam Gaughan (bass guitar) and Dave McKeague (drums) the band played a set of original music from their 3 releases which included strong melodies, interesting tempo changes and showed a high level of competency across the whole band. I thought I would be impressed by them and I wasn't mistaken in the slightest.
The next set was a tribute to Gerry Mulligan, an undoubted giant of the baritone saxophone. That the tribute should be given by the smallest baritone player I have ever seen was remarkable.
What Sue Ferris lacks in physical stature, she certainly makes up for in power and she delivered an excellent set full of emotion and swing. She was supported by regular collaborator Rob Walker on drums and 2 deps (for Covid and other reasons) Stuart Collingwood on piano and, making his third appearance at the Festival, Paul Grainger on bass. The late replacements however did not detract for one moment and the quartet delivered an assured and sparkling set.
They say you should go out with a bang and the organisers obviously had that in mind when they signed up Canadian born trumpeter Jay Phelps
to front a quartet completed by local musicians Dean Stockdale (piano), Andy Champion (bass) and Dave McKeague (drums).
A set that included Syeeda's Song Flute, This I Dig of You, I Can't Get Started and Phelps' own composition Everyone's Ethnic - on which he also sang - was delivered at a brisk pace, with Phelps' blistering solos matched every step of the way by the other band members. This set was one of the most satisfying I have seen in a good long while with Phelps delivering a masterclass in trumpet playing, complemented by the cream of the North East scene. It was also nice to hear Ornette Coleman's Blues Connotation as the set's closer.
In conclusion, I take my hat off to the organisers who managed to put together a strong and varied programme featuring both local and international talent under extremely trying circumstances. I hope they can manage to pull a similar feat off again next year.
All photographs © Pete Woodman Photography, © emuliJazz
Thanks to Lance Liddle for assistance with band line-ups