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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Marilyn Crispell & Raymond MacDonald + John Pope & Greta Buitkute @ King’s Hall, Newcastle University. December 4

Marilyn Crispell (piano) & Raymond MacDonald (alto & soprano saxophones), Andy Champion (double bass)
(Review by Russell/Photos by Ken Drew.)
There was a huge turn out in Armstrong Building, Newcastle University. The Congregation exited King’s Hall – academics, graduates and guests – following an awards ceremony. Photographs taken, bouquets discarded, within minutes the building stood deserted. The scheduled gig in the Recital Room proved problematic as the space functioned as a cloak room for the duration, coats racks everywhere, the Steinway in there somewhere. Only one thing to do, hold the gig in the King’s Hall. Rows of empty chairs from the earlier assembly would surely fill up. Of course they didn't. Platform with ceremonial chairs and throne made for a surreal backdrop. Steinway in position, bar set up, the audience started to arrive. 
The usual faces, first name terms, the state of the music in these difficult times for the small scale promoter. Small promoter, big gig. American pianist Marilyn Crispell joined forces once more with reeds virtuoso Raymond Macdonald. A relationship born of their meeting at Jazz North East’s On the Outside Festival, the duo have gone on to play concerts and document their music making on CD.
The ‘product’ sold like hot cakes (mince pies?) on the night, testament to the exceptional performance heard by the lucky few. Crispell appeared in Newcastle way back with Anthony Braxton and years later in the King’s Hall the self effacing American reaffirmed her rare talent. Head bowed, hunched over the keyboard, Crispell’s two handed note clusters inspired Raymond MacDonald to ever greater heights. Alto or soprano, the amiable Scot gave the performance of a lifetime. Notes reached up into the cloistered rafters ringing crystal clear to the echo. MacDonald’s keen ear responded to the acoustic, incorporating the delay of cathedral like proportions into his playing. Possessing imperious technique, the jazz – and it was ‘real’ jazz – took some believing. The rapport between the musicians telepathic, the playing stonkingly good. One piece recalled In a Sentimental Mood, another infused with gospel sounds, the truth. 
At the close the duo invited double bassist Andy Champion to join them for an encore. Three string Champion (one string broke!) slotted in comfortably, as one has come to expect.
Earlier John Pope (double bass|) & Greta Buitkute (voice) played a short opening set. Pope’s recent improv outings have seen him take giant strides, looking and sounding increasingly at home in the genre. Buitkute chooses to explore the possibilities of the human voice, pushing boundaries, as they say. Working acoustically on this gig, her quiet excursions required concentrated listening, lower register guttural sounds projected without the aid of a mic. An interesting set, a wonderful evening, a contender for Gig of the Year! 
Russell.

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