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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Gateshead International Jazz Festival – Greater North Jazz Showcase Saturday March 24.

Voice of the North Jazz Orchestra & The Sharkestra
Voice of the North: John Warren (conductor), Graeme Wilson (tenor saxophone), Katie Hawcutt (tenor saxophone), Andy Bennett (alto saxophone), Rod Mason (alto saxophone & flute), Niall Armstrong (baritone saxophone), Chris Hibbard, Alex Leathard, Don Fairley, Rosie Nichols (trombones), Kim Macari, Shaun Eland, Jonathan Dunn, Greg Nicholas (trumpets), Mark Williams (guitar), Paul Edis (piano), Andy Champion (double bass) & Adrian Tilbrook (drums) (missing names from Kim Macari and Adrian Tilbrook.)
The Northern Rock Foundation Hall is the intimate performance space at the festival and as has become tradition this is the platform to hear the best north of England jazz talent. On this occasion the principals hailed from northern climes: conductor John Warren from Canada (English resident) and from north of the border, Graeme Wilson (English resident). The affable Scot is a composer of note and this was an opportunity to hear his music (much of it written and arranged for Voice of the North). 
The New Wallaw (a tune inspired by Wilson’s visit to a sadly neglected cinema in Blyth, Northumberland) opened the afternoon programme. Band warmed up, Chuck’s 400 (a nod to the great Chuck Berry), featured bass trombone ace Chris Hibbard and pocket-powerhouse trumpeter Kim Macari. Wilson’s travels have inspired a number of tunes and we departed for Kyoto and New York. Andy Bennett turned Japanese (I really think so) with some blistering work on alto and the band took a bruising on Streets of Furs. Travelling from Japan to America there was time to hear the lyrical side of Alex Leathard and Rosie Nichol (trombones) and The Sycamore featured an extended solo from the award-winning Jonathan Dunn (flugelhorn). 
The rhythm section is the foundation of the band and there is a copper-bottomed guarantee that all will be well in the hands of drummer (and fixer) Adrian Tilbrook, bassist Andy Champion, guitarist Mark Williams and Paul Edis (piano). 
Voice of the North is the band to hear and there will be precious few further opportunities to hear this stellar outfit. Shall we call it ‘funding difficulties’? Call it what you will - I call it cultural neglect, vandalism and down-right criminal – this fantastic long-term project is about to wither and die. Short of being a wealthy philanthropist do the decent thing and take the chance to hear the band in Saltburn (May 4th) and again (finally?) in the autumn back on Tyneside with a soon-to-be-revealed big band big bash blow-out.
A work in progress project guarantees one thing – surprise. The Sharkestra is a constantly evolving band of highly talented emerging musicians mentored by the charismatic Chris Sharkey. Gateshead lad Sharkey is busy as a mercurial guitarist (notably trio VD) yet he has found the time to work with a pool of Sage-based musicians keen to learn and develop their skills. Weeks, months of work culminated in a performance in front of a standing-room only crowd. Think Sun Ra, think Frank Zappa, think fez, sombrero, smiles and no mean playing and you begin to get an idea what this band is about. Sharkey coaxes a performance – individually and collectively – from his charges, leaping into the sections, suggesting this, suggesting that, all the while the band blazing. The Sharkestra is an experience – try it sometime.
Attending a performance in another hall meant I missed out on Gogo Penguin and Roller Trio. I’ve heard the latter live – they’re good. The former? I have it on good authority that they were rather good too. If you were at the Greater North Jazz Showcase you are welcome to post a review…

1 comment :

John Warren (on Facebook) said...

Thanks Russell, for the kind words about the Voice of the North gig. And the plaudits for Kim. And to the other outstanding soloists in the band at that concert. But we also owe great thanks to the other gang from south of the border (as I refer to Yorkshireites) Greg
Nicholas, Rosie Nicholl, Katie Hawcutt (and our regular stalwart Rod Mason) for filling in for the regular members of the band who were unavailable.
And thank you for making the point about the criminal waste of the musical legacy that will be lost with the demise of the Voice of the North Jazz Orchestra . It is appalling to think that such a resource could be wasted. The quantity and quality of creative and challenging music that has been commissioned by Jazz Action for the band, and the committment and dedication of all the musicians in the North East who have brought it to fruition, is staggering. I cannot think of a single large ensemble in the country who can boast a library of original music by Tim Garland, Jason Yarde, Issie Barratt, Bob Mintzer, Andy Sheppard, Mark Nightingale, Steve Waterman & John Warren.

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