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Bebop Spoken There

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Friday, February 28, 2014

James Birkett & Bradley Johnston @ The Lit & Phil. February 26

(Review by Russell)
The Lit & Phil’s imposing upstairs library accommodated a ‘select’ audience seated between the books stacks (Northern Primitive Methodism to one side, weighty tomes of Ezra Pound the other). A bottle of Wylam’s Rocket an apposite choice given the library’s historic association with the pioneering engineering Stephensons (George and Robert). James Birkett and Bradley Johnston play jazz guitar – Birkett the master musician, Johnston the immensely talented student. Birkett has played at the highest level for many years, Johnston practices for many hours every day and one day soon he too will be up there.
The programme encompassed jazz guitar from the twenties and thirties – Eddie Lang (Blue Room), Carl Kress and Dick McDonough to Django to Bonfa to Pat Metheny. Some of the music’s great composers (and musicians) – Bird, Brubeck, John Lewis – featured during two relaxed sets. Bossa began the programme (Jobim’s Wave), Nuages seemingly de rigueur, Morris Dance (comp. Keith Morris/James Birkett) and Birelli Lagrene’s Fisco Place, the enchanting Skating in Central Park, tunes for guitarists and fans of classic jazz guitar. Bradley Johnston, the junior partner, soloed fearlessly, fingers spiralling off the fretboard. Birkett, with a few more gigs under his belt than Johnston, constructed solos most can but dream of and fewer still can match. Billie’s Bounce and Oleo put the bebop era in context (and in its place!) and the show-stopper, beloved of guitarists the world over – Chick Corea’s Spain – elicited the ‘wow!’ factor. Birkett and Johnston are gigging throughout the north east in the coming months, keep checking Bebop Spoken Here for details of where and when.            
Russell.

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