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Saturday, August 09, 2014

The Mark Williams Trio @ The Cherry Tree, August 4

Mark Williams (guitar); Andy Champion (double bass); Rob Walker (drums). (Review by JC).
By my reckoning the Cherry Tree has been running its free Monday night jazz sessions for at least five years and as far as I am aware, the sessions have taken place every Monday regardless of summer holidays and other events. This probably makes it the most consistent jazz session in the North East, which is no mean achievement. As I live just a couple of drumbeats away I have been there on quite a few occasions and have always had a good time both musically and gastronomically. I have heard all the best local and regional musicians in a variety of different bands some longstanding formations, others creatively brought together for the occasion. Also, musicians and singers from further afield pass through and often present a feast of great jazz.
So, bearing in mind the quality of the music, I have often mused to myself why more of the local jazz audience don't drop in from time to time. Although entrance is free, admittedly there is an expectation that people will eat and drink something while they are there. But with two courses for £16 and a couple of drinks it should be possible to keep the bill to about 25 quid. Then again maybe jazz enthusiasts figure that a restaurant with jazz equals bland, background music. Nothing could be further from the truth and the group tonight illustrated this beautifully.
The flyer said the Mark Williams Trio but the MW Super Trio would have been more like it. What a line-up! Any of these musicians can (and do) play free improv, scorching modern jazz, jazz prog-rock, beautiful lyrical ballads and their own compositions, and at least two had recently returned from performing at the Manchester Jazz Festival and other concerts further south. From the off it seemed clear that the tunes were carefully chosen for their melodic qualities and the opportunities they allowed for each of the band to explore their possibilities. Williams' guitar work had a beautiful bell-like tone with gently assertive runs and sweet chord sequences. Rob Walker sat in his usual pleasantly sphinx-style pose, which belies the intricate rhythms on the drums produced by his hands. On double bass, as always, Andy Champion wove intricate patterns around the basic bass notes. On one tune he played a long solo introduction, setting out and extending the tune's melody almost like the lead instrument. Some of the tunes were familiarly unfamiliar to me but that didn't matter, as it was the sound and the interplay between the musicians that was sumptuous. Others I could put a name to, like My One and Only Love, a fabulous version of My Favourite Things with a brilliantly subtle solo from Rob Walker. But the standout was Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, as it happens my parents 'special song', which was exquisitely played with Williams delicately bending the strings to send wisps of sound into the air.
Jazz fans give yourselves a treat, get along to the Cherry Tree.
JC

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