Review: More on Gateshead

Andy Hamilton and Bob Weir on Clare Teal, Binker & Moses, Tomasz Stanko, Georgia Mancio, Alan Broadbent, Han Bennink, Garibaldi Plop and more

One could not wish for a more uplifting start to this friendly festival than Clare Teal (pictured right) singing with her superb Hollywood Orchestra (writes Bob Weir). With strings and conducted and orchestrated by trumpeter Guy Barker, the 17-piece ensemble backed Clare to perfection on a programme of standards associated with the finest American female jazz singers. Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne were most prominently honoured but there were also numbers from the Peggy Lee, Nancy Wilson and Nina Simone songbooks. Encouraging young performers is an important part of the Gateshead mission so it was wholly appropriate for Clare to introduce up-and-comers Ben Capolla and Cerise Adams Burnette for their own features and with her as a vocal trio. Together, they rocked the hall on the concluding Ready Willing And Able, to well-deserved ecstatic applause.

The next concert was quite a contrast. It was a double bill of saxophone and drum duo Binker and Moses (drummer Moses Boyd pictured left) and electronica trio Strobes. The former were two young graduates of Gary Crosby's inspirational Tomorrow's Warriors workshops. They improvised at length with considerable energy and inventiveness like supercharged Rollins/Roach and Coltrane/Ali. Strobes are clearly talented musicians but their trance-like grooves became too repetitive for someone who prefers structured songs to nagging hooks.

On Saturday, in what seemed like two fingers to Brexit, three youth orchestras (our own NYJO, Bujazzo from Germany and the Netherlands' NJJO, pictured below right) shared the stage in various combinations as a fine example of European co-operation. Each band played a slightly nervous introductory number but the youngsters relaxed as different integrated groups were formed for some very exciting original material. The long, three-part suite The Future Is Now, featuring two girl singers from the Dutch band, was outstanding. The best playing, however, both in soloing and ensemble, came with a couple of USA warhorses. Gerry Mulligan's Youngblood was executed with panache comparable with any current big band and Johnny Richards's Cuban Fire by all 75 players was a thrilling tour-de-force. It was surely no coincidence that both of them were energetically conducted by Jiggs Whigham, MD of the German outfit.

A concert billed as The Ronnie Scott's All Stars Present The Ronnie Scott's Soho Songbook was a nostalgic trip for habitués of the venerable jazz club. The quartet (Alex Garnett -ts, James Pearson -p, Sam Burgess -b and Ian Thomas -d) and well-featured singer Natalie Williams treated us to a programme recalling many of the jazz greats who performed there over the years. They started with Alfie's Theme which Sonny Rollins composed in the "old place" for the Michael Caine film. Other highlights were Natalie's accurate rendition of Ella's famous version of How High The Moon and the popular drum speciality Sing Sing Sing. Equally compelling was the interlinking narrative history of the club by James Pearson and Alex Garnett, with some good stories and jokes from the latter - "I've been married for four happy years - out of six". Back-projected photos of the club and its stars and audio excerpts of Ronnie's "funnies" added to the charm of a very enjoyable occasion.

During the afternoon in the foyer Kevin Le Gendre presented many of the festival's attractions in short sets recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio's Jazz Line-Up.

The afternoon of Sunday 2 April offered another cannily planned double bill. Stan Sulzmann (ts) and Nikki Iles (p) (pictured left) engaged in an intimate musical conversation on mainly easy paced, durable but not over-exposed ballads. Every note spoke of consummate professionalism and the quietly attentive audience loved it all. The players' mutual empathy seemed to peak on their late friend Kenny Wheeler's Everybody's Song But My Own. The Trish Clowes Quartet continued the contemplative mood with a set of quirkily attractive recent compositions for her My Iris project. The band tapped into several current trends in European jazz without the excesses - their sparing use of electronics, for example, was always tasteful and apposite. Trish's subtle tenor sax improvising was, perhaps, best displayed on the lovely In Between The Moss And Ivy, John Blease dug deeply into drumming history on Tap Dance For Baby Dodds and Ross Stanley's piano and synth were vital throughout.

Polish trumpet legend Tomasz Stanko's only UK date of his current European tour was eagerly awaited and I doubt that anyone left this final show of the festival disappointed. True, he started rather tentatively (probably due to the band's late arrival following a delayed flight) but he soon relaxed and his soulful playing grew in authority and potency. He was obviously inspired by his brilliant trio (Alexi Tuomarila -p, Reuben Rogers -b and Gerald Cleaver -d) for their absorbing explorations beyond the musical territory abandoned by mid-period Miles Davis. Stanko's impressive individuality and clear-sighted concentration on extending the jazz improvisational tradition are things to cherish in this age of college-produced clones.

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For most pop vocalists (writes Andy Hamilton), "more is more" - despite the example of Billie Holiday, this is true of jazz as well. So I was at first astonished, then delighted, to find a contemporary jazz vocalist who understands that "less is more". Her name is Georgia Mancio, and I should have been more familiar with her work - especially as she's British, and has a partnership with one of the great contemporary jazz pianists, Alan Broadbent. At this year's festival they performed their wonderful original compositions - Broadbent writing the music and Mancio providing the lyrics.

Mancio has a light voice that's immediately engaging, projected through skilful microphone control, without emoting or grandstanding - and with a touching sense of vulnerability. Her accent is barely mid-Atlantic, the diction beautifully clear, the interpretations thoughtful. She doesn't produce dramatic deviation from the pulse, as in the miraculous behind-the-beat phrasing of Billie Holiday. Though Mancio comments that her favourite jazz singers are Carmen McRae, Betty Carter, Jon Hendricks and Anita O'Day, she concedes that "I don't think who you admire necessarily reflects who you sound like". I found more affinities, in sound at least, with vocalists such as June Christie and Chris Connor. On this occasion, there was no scatting.

Among the songs that the duo presented was their first collaboration, from 2014 - The Last Goodbye, which appeared on a Quartet West album as The Long Goodbye. The Cherry Tree is based on a poignant series of photos of a married couple taken by their son, which concluded with the widowed husband on his own. Same Old Moon - a semi-Giant Steps sequence - got its premiere at Gateshead. The material had an elegiac quality - in the words of one reviewer, these are poignant vignettes, with the lyrics an updating of the Tin Pan Alley style. The gig reminded me to check out Broadbent's much earlier partnership with vocalist Irene Kral - in fact, I need to check out my CDs of jazz vocalists that I've been neglecting of late, to remind myself of some important stylistic distinctions.

Alan Broadbent is best-known as pianist in Charlie Haden's Quartet West - a rather misunderstood group I think, and certainly not the bassist's "mainstream" band. The quartet is no more of course - Haden died in 2013 - and I was going to say that Broadbent remains remarkably under-appreciated. But maybe that's changing. The audience didn’t fill the Northern Rock Hall, but then the duo were competing against both Richard Bona and Tomasz Stanko; and their Ronnie Scott's date the following evening was sold out. Broadbent is one of the most profound of contemporary jazz pianists - it's important to realise that he was one of the last pupils of Cool School guru Lennie Tristano. Since on this occasion he was supporting a singer, he didn't go for the overt rhythmic freedom found especially in his solo work - here, his explorations moved in different, but equally subtle, directions. The trio with bassist Oli Hayhurst, and drummer Dave Ohm - Mr. Georgia Mancio - was totally sympathetic. The group can be heard on the wonderful new Mancio/Broadbent album, Songbook (Roomspin Records) available from Amazon, but more beneficially to the artist from her website, after 23 April. If you love the golden age of the American Songbook, you'll appreciate the achievement of this partnership in extending it.

Talking of golden ages - in painting, the Dutch Golden Age was the 17th century, with Rembrandt and Vermeer. Its golden age of jazz began in the 1960s and still continues - for a land of 15 million people, its achievements in both areas of artistic endeavour have been extraordinary. Present from the beginning of the jazz golden age was drummer Han Bennink - as much a master of brushes as Rembrandt was. His long-time partner, pianist Misha Mengelberg, died earlier this year. Both were present on Eric Dolphy's Last Date in 1964, helping to make it one of the essential albums of modern jazz. Bennink was 22 at the time, and Mengelberg was 29. Bennink is now 75, but his playing is undiminished.

Mengelberg and Bennink founded the ICP - Instant Composers Pool - with Willem Breuker in 1967, as a band and a label. The band made their concert at Gateshead into a tribute to the pianist. Their second number was an interpretation of Mengelberg's composition for Dolphy's Last Date, Hypochristmutreefuzz. Also featured was Mengelberg's arrangement of Monk's Jackie-Ing - with powerful stabbing interjections by Tristan Honsinger on cello and Mary Oliver on viola - followed by his arrangements of Ellington's Mood Indigo - gorgeously loose and oblique - and Happy Go-Lucky Local, in a riotous version. Also featured was a piece by Ab Baars called Where The Sunflowers Grow, indebted to a Charles Ives song, apparently - another piece of broad and obscure Dutch humour, because at some point the sunflowers take to marching. Honsinger, who is quite a Bohemian evidently, took to movement art at one point. This was a quite splendid line-up of this magnificent aggregation, that also featured the great Guus Janssen on piano, Wolter Wierbos on trombone, Thomas Heberer on trumpet, Michael Moore and Toby Delius on reeds, and Ernst Glerum on bass.

Moving forward in our historical references, Garibaldi visited the North-East in 1854, where he was enthusiastically welcomed by the local population. Ten years later, as hero of the Risorgimento, he drew huge crowds in London. By then one of the biggest celebrities to visit the country, he had a biscuit named after him. Garibaldi Plop didn't draw thousands on their visit to Gateshead, and to my knowledge haven't inspired a biscuit, but they did fill the Northern Rock Hall when they opened for ICP. The Paris-based band are Roberto Negro (piano, pictured right), Valentin Ceccaldi (cello) and Sylvain Darrifourcq (drums). The pianist began by apologising that, as an Italian, "We don't have a reputation to be good at languages - and a couple of other things", and then explained that they were going to play one piece. This, it turned out, showed a characteristic method of operation - a compositional structure, broken into sections, with passages of free improvisation. The results were conceptually rich, beginning with a son continu effect, followed by an angular, out of tempo theme, then a section in rock rhythm, which was a frequent recourse, maybe reflecting a trend in contemporary French jazz. Ceccaldi was virtuosic on cello, using arco, pizzicato, and violent guitar-like strumming, while Negro explored inside the piano, creating a theatricality that prepared us for the headline act (ICP) that followed.

The following day, Garibaldi Plop participated in a workshop on the philosophy of improvisation, organised by the present writer with Paul Bream of Jazz North-East. The trio began with a 20-minute set, this time with upright piano but otherwise the same set-up. It was interesting to hear this, unamplified, in the Barbour Room - which compared favourably with the over-amplified sound in the Northern Rock Hall, I thought. Negro then explained how the group put improvisation into a structured presentation - for instance, a recording of Maurice Chevalier inserted into the previous evening's performance was a reference to his family's activities in the Italian Resistance.

At the end of the workshop, Paul Bream told an extraordinary anecdote. He was first inspired in his love of jazz by Mingus's Gunslinging Bird, and actually heard Mingus on tour in Europe in 1964 - the tour from which Eric Dolphy did not return. Peter Clayton mentioned it on his programme on the then BBC Third Programme, without giving details, so Paul rang the BBC while the programme was on air and asked to speak to him. Amazingly, he was connected, and while a track was playing, Clayton searched for the piece of paper with the dates on; a few days later, Paul and a friend hitched to Amsterdam. I doubt that the BBC would provide that service today.

Photos by Rita Pulavska

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