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Born This Day
Louis Armstrong and Steve Andrews.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Jim Mullen Organ Trio @ Sage Gateshead. November 2

Jim Mullen (guitar), Pete Whittaker (organ) & Matt Skelton (drums)
(Review by Russell).
Jim Mullen arrived on a rain-swept Tyneside to lead an afternoon workshop (the self effacing Glaswegian dismissed the term ‘masterclass’) and prior to his evening concert performance, chat with Tom Kerstens, Artisitc Director of the North East Guitar Festival at Sage Gateshead. The sparsely populated Northern Rock Foundation Hall gave a warm welcome to one of Britain’s great jazz guitarists (a frequent poll winner down the years, yet deserving of greater recognition – a musician’s musician perhaps).
Mullen spoke about his early years – there was no one to tell him not to adopt the technique he did – and his work in rock bands (Marshall stacks behind him) before heading to London to make a go of it on the jazz scene.
He recalled fondly the late Dick Morrissey and his subsequent list of credits reads like a who’s who of the international scene – the Average White Band, Tam White, Mose Allison, Jimmy Witherspoon, Claire Martin. In the intimate space at Sage Gateshead gone were the banks of amplifiers. These days said Mullen, I’m happy to take my little amp on the bus. Having put his career to date in context, the trio began with a tune, renamed by the Alzheimer’s Society, said Mullen…I Don’t Remember You. This was Blue Note organ trio heaven. Mullen’s speed of light thumb movement (no plectrum) beggared belief as drummer Matt Skelton swung like there was no tomorrow.  Pete Whittaker reunited with Mullen as a late dep on the gig and it was as though he had been in the band for years. His Crumar Mojo and customised Leslie set-up did the job. Less cumbersome than the B3 but just as effective.
Mullen dipped into his mental note book of quotes and liberally peppered them throughout Bruno Martino’s Estate (You and the Night and the Music one of many). I Fall in Love Too Easily (highlighting Skelton’s superlative brush work) and Wes Montgomery’s transcription of The End of a Love Affair won Whittaker due applause. The interval had the geeks looking intently at the on stage hardware – Mullen’s Aura guitar with sound hole covers (presumably to lessen feedback) and one punter expressed disappointment at Whittaker’s non-B3 kit. No pleasing some people. Try lugging that up three flights of stairs to your next pub gig and the next!
Earth, Wind and Fire’s After the Love Has Gone – something of a surprise choice – opened the second set. Mullen said Let’s see if we can make some jazz of it. They did, of course. Mullen, something of a movie buff, suggested they play Invitation – Whittaker and Skelton needed no second invitation. Can these guys play anything? I guess they can!  Mullen’s glorious political incorrectness resurfaced with I Don’t Remember. At the age of sixty seven he said he was beginning to forget things. For the record it was, of course, a great take on Irving Berlin’s Remember. 
Ballads featured in the set list, notably When Sunny Gets Blue. Lovely bluesy guitar from Mullen. The evening concluded with a brain teaser as Mullen announced: Your starter for ten. The trio ripped through the theme to the television quiz show University Challenge with countless quotes – all recognisable, all so fleeting, impossible to recall. At the end Mullen laughed. How many did you get? He asked.              
Russell.

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