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Thursday, September 01, 2016

Mark Williams & Joel McCullough @ Ushaw Durham Jazz Festival. August 27

Mark Williams (guitar) & Joel McCullough (guitar)
(Review by Russell/photo courtesy of Fiona Haughton)
Jazz guitar. There is something about an intimate jazz guitar gig in a small space. Two of the finest guitarists around played a duo concert in the inviting Francis Thompson Room to an attentive, full house. Two men from Belfast, playing jazz guitar, studied together at Newcastle College, then went their separate ways. One made his home on Tyneside, the other worked in Manchester. Years later they reunited on Tyneside and picked up where they left off…playing jazz guitar.

 The inaugural Ushaw Durham Jazz Festival booked Mark Williams and Joel McCullough to play a set of standards. What a gig! And it had yet to start! Unassuming, approachable, Williams and McCullough ensured they had liquid refreshment at hand (Brown Ale – see photograph), pulled up a chair – the audience settled into large sofas – and started to play. All the Things You Are. Perfect. Egos left at the door, two friends playing, appreciative of one another’s abilities. Then I’ll Be Seeing You. It couldn’t get any better. Then again, try a couple of Steve Swallow’s compositions – Ladies in Mercedes and Falling Grace.

John Scofield is rarely absent from the set list and this Durham gig was no different. And a marvellous Ladybird, heard earlier in the day in the same room in the Early Bird Band’s set, promised to be the highlight. Williams eased his way into Tadd Dameron’s tune with McCullough’s languid bass line accompaniment of A* quality. A glance, if that, and the duo swapped roles, McCullough showing what he could do with the tune. Wonderful.                   
In their youth, the two lads from the streets of Belfast would attend jazz clubs to hear one of the true greats. They spoke about the times they listened to Louis Stewart. In memory of the man, Williams and McCullough played first an Irish folk tune She Moved Through the Fair followed by Darn That Dream. Perfect.

Russell.

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