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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mark McKnight Quartet @ The Cluny. September 27.

Mark McKnight (guitar), Seamus Blake (tenor saxophone), Ross Stanley (organ) & James Maddren (drums).
Schmazz @ The Cluny and Jazz North East pooled resources to secure the Newcastle booking of Mark McKnight's band during an extensive tour of the UK. Irishman McKnight made a considerable impression last year at the Corner House in the company of alto star Paul Towndrow. The Cluny date was keenly anticipated and a large turn-out greeted the quartet with much enthusiasm. The guitarist's latest CD - Do or Die - is most accomplished and hearing the material live proved to be a real treat. 
The tunes strong, musicianship of the highest order, it all seemed so effortless. McKnight the composer is one to watch and all four musicians developed extended solos; Nightcap, a new tune - Ballad of Lee Murgatroyd - and the one non-original number - Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered - were quite exceptional. McKnight's fluency was something to behold, Seamus Blake's tenor the perfectly pitched foil, organist Ross Stanley the master of his instrument and young drummer James Maddren had it all at his fingertips. The first set concluded with Overnight the eponymous number from McKnight's acclaimed debut recording as a bandleader. The consensus of the interval chatter gave a unanimous thumbs up to a great first set. 
Another pint of Harviestoun's IPA was called for as future gigs were discussed...Ray Chester, Charles Gayle, Enrico Tomasso (the Tyneside audience is nothing if not catholic in taste) and before we knew it we were served a second helping of McKnight & co.. Pieces, with perhaps a hint of Mingus' Goodbye Pork Pie Hat and McLaughlin's Extrapolation periodfeatured Maddren's languid yet tight drumming with McKnight's bell-like tones ringing out across the Cluny. Do or Die had to feature and it did. It sounds good on CD and it sounded rather good live!  McKnight's very first composition - Contemplate - a ballad at that, proved to be a highlight with Blake playing some assured old school tenor. The closing number (We'll) Just Disappear upped the ante featuring outrageously good solos all round with Seamus Blake's tenor playing catching everyone by surprise as he rattled-off phrase after sanctifying phrase. Was this a prayer meeting? Thrilling stuff! A contender for gig of the year.

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