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Thursday, October 12, 2017

James Birkett & Bradley Johnston @ King’s Hall, Newcastle University - October 12

 James Birkett (guitar) & Bradley Johnston (guitar)
(Review by Russell)
Newcastle University’s lunchtime concert series welcomed the jazz guitar duo of James Birkett and Bradley Johnston. Birkett has spent a working life in music education, and Johnston was one of his students until the Wearsider graduated with First Class Honours from the BMus degree programme based at Sage Gateshead. Their performance of fifty minutes in the recently refurbished King’s Hall comprised nine compositions, of which two were written by Birkett and a waltz by Johnston.
Seated on a low raised platform the jazz guitar duo opened with Birkett’s Blues for BJ. A noticeable feature of the duo’s concert appearances is the care taken to ensure sound levels are set just right. Solo or in rhythmic support the duo worked sympathetically exemplified by a degree of trust shown when they played Doxy; lots of space, lines exchanged, scarcely a glance between them. The Ray Noble chaser Cherokee benefited from a tailored arrangement with much dazzling fretwork. King’s Hall audiences are used to high quality concerts, invariably classical and folk, and this all-too-rare, but welcome jazz ‘gig’ was listened to attentively without the usual ‘jazz club’ interaction one would expect at other venues with applause reserved for the conclusion of each number.

Burt Bacharach’s achingly beautiful Alfie has been a vehicle for jazz musicians down the years and Birkett and Johnston’s version is up there with the best of them. Several accomplished guitar duos have been known to close a performance with Chick Corea’s Spain, today’s duo being one of them but on this occasion it didn’t feature as a finale thanks to a new party piece written by James Birkett titled Suite 4. It would appear that Birkett and Johnston have hit upon a number with which the duo can go out on with a flourish. 
Russell                  

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