Review: Gateshead jazz festival 2014, Day 3

Fred Grand wraps up the closing day at the north-east jazz bonanza, capped by Bill Frisell's Beautiful Dreamers trio. Photography by John Watson

After the sheer volume of concerts running in parallel on Saturday, Sunday’s programme came as something of a wind down. Both of the sets I attended fell at opposite ends of the day, sandwiching an interview I’d arranged with drummer Rudy Royston (pictured right) who was at the festival with Bill Frisell.

With ears still ringing from the Spring Quartet’s performance the previous evening, opting to see guitarist Chris Sharkey’s new power trio Shiver may strike some as foolhardy. Increasingly at home on the international stage, Sharkey actually grew up on Tyneside and retains his regional accent to prove it. I’d only previously heard him play a couple of imaginative but skronky improv sets and with Trio VD, and I didn’t arrive with altogether optimistic expectations. I was soon enraptured however, drawn in by the irresistible velocity of the opening Hammerhead Blues. Propelled at Mach 3 by Joost Hendricks’s precise but explosive drumming, bassist Andy Champion had dialled some futuristic cyber-punk tones into his effects board while Sharkey played what can only be described as advanced industrial fusion. Quick Step was dedicated to Newcastle’s Mayfair Ballroom (once a mecca for fans of heavy rock), and it juxtaposed raunchy garage rock with more open-textured sound-scaping to evoke the venue’s distant glitter-ball days. Echoes of Norway’s Supersilent, and even Terje Rypdal’s much maligned and misunderstood Chasers could be heard on Night School, bringing the instrumental part of the set to an impressive close. Singers Zoe Gilby and John Turrell then joined the trio for a specially commissioned song-based work based on Sharkey’s occasionally dark and dystopian impressions of his childhood on Tyneside. Packed with drama and beautifully nuanced, Shiver had just become the surprise package of the festival.

Next on stage was Seb Rochford’s Polar Bear, currently on tour to promote their fifth album, In Each And Every One (Leaf). Something of a departure for the group, the album places considerably more emphasis on the sounds and textures of Leafcutter John. Opening with the suitably Arctic ambience of Open See, it was immediately clear that in the four years since the release of Peepers the band have achieved a more organic electro-acoustic sound. Of course they still retain their trademark wit and will always appear to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at you whenever they perform, but this skilful portmanteau blending of traditions has reached new levels of refinement. Pete Wareham is the more expressionistic of the two horns, fluent in the language of Ayler and late-period Coltrane, whilst experienced hand Mark Lockheart is the principal melodist. At the centre of it all sits Rochford, purveyor of unorthodox meters and anything but your run-of-the-mill kit drummer. Benefiting from the more intimate and club-like environment of Hall Two, this was a more cohesive and better realised performance than the group’s appearance with Jack DeJohnette in the main hall around 18 months ago.

With a couple of hours spare before my rendezvous with Rudy Royston, the realisation began to dawn that this year’s event was almost over. It had been three days during which almost every conceivable style of jazz had been heard under the same roof. Before welcoming Bill Frisell, whose sound is perhaps as quintessentially American as the photographs of Ansell Adams, there was a welcome opportunity to hear the established trio of German pianist Pablo Held (pictured left). Held announced before the performance that after eight years together the trio had recently abandoned their trusty book of arrangements in an attempt to keep the music fresh. Conversational and free-flowing, the trio followed something of a modular approach, responding to Held’s barely perceptible cues to change direction. Lyrical and abstract in the manner of Paul Bley and Bobo Stenson, on this evidence Held’s trio ranks amongst Europe’s finest.

Yet most of the capacity audience had really come to hear Frisell. The Beautiful Dreamers trio (pictured below), featuring the viola of Eyvind Kang and the percussion of Rudy Royston, is perhaps the group which best represents the full stylistic breadth of his career. Royston is a vital catalyst, equally adept at delicate brush-strokes and turning up the temperature with a rock-solid groove. The set started deep in the mid-western heartlands, a plaintive and deeply endearing folk melody turned inside out in a performance of steadily increasing intensity. This was the signature Frisell of old, marked by the haunting echo of his Line 6 delay embellished with distortion. Days Of Wine And Roses was set against a curious old-time shuffle and was almost certainly a dedication to the late Jim Hall; the ever-reserved Frisell made no announcements between songs but there was no mistaking those adventurous chord selections and tricky single-note lines. Next came Dance, a raucous blast from the songbook of the Motian/Frisell/Lovano trio. Royston’s hyper-kinetic multi-directional barrage underpinned Frisell’s screaming Telecaster, and in another nod to Motian (the enigmatic It Should Have Happened A Long Time Ago) a clearly relaxed Frisell seemed to be rolling back the years. The catchy Baba Drame (from The Intercontinentals) reinforced the links between Africa and the blues with ecstatic results, and Frisell wasn’t going to be allowed to leave without an encore. It came in the form of There’s A Boat That’s Leaving Soon for New York, a title which would have provided an apposite end to a GIJF with renewed emphasis on American artists had he not gone on to play a second encore (this time a homage to Big Sur and the surf music of Dick Dale). With its 10th edition the GIJF had indeed reached a very special milestone, and it had been an event suitably strewn with special and inspiring moments - mark your diaries for 10-12 April 2015.

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