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Bebop Spoken There

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Vieux Carre Jazzmen - The Holystone, Whitley Road, North Tyneside NE27 0DA. 0191 266 6173. 1:00pm. Free.

Maine St Jazzmen - Sunniside Social Club, Sunniside Road, Sunniside NE16 5NA. Tel: 0191 488 7347. 8:00pm - 10pm. Free. Note earlier start/finish.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

James Birkett & Bradley Johnston @ St George’s URC, Morpeth - Dec 6

James Birkett (guitar) & Bradley Johnston (guitar)
(Review/Photos by Russell)
St George’s autumn concert series concluded with a lunchtime ‘recital’ by guitarists James Birkett and Bradley Johnston. Billed as a ‘recital’ rather than a gig, the lunchtime audience wasn’t about to break into fervent applause anytime soon. A jazz gig audience wouldn’t have hesitated, but, here in Morpeth, St George’s Wednesday regulars no doubt remain quiet during a classical recital or folk performance. A sizeable audience greeted Birkett and Johnston as they took to the stage with rather nice Ibanez guitars in hand.

On a cold but dry afternoon, Dr Birkett suggested we should imagine a Brazilian beach scene as the duo began their programme with Luis Bonfá’s Black Orpheus. Solo parts seamlessly handed from one to another, rhythmic accompaniment impeccable, there is a genuine empathy between Birkett and Johnston. An occasional glance, only occasional, between the two, their infallible jazz ear their sole means of communication, Pat Metheny’s Farmer’s Trust a mutual favourite, hearing the duo playing it in a church setting afforded the American’s composition an extra reverence.

Two tunes in succession epitomised the brilliance of the guitar duo; Sonny Rollins’ Doxy with much space, the timing telepathic, then All the Things You Are. At a recent gig your BSH correspondent, listening to Jerome Kern’s classic number, turned to an acquaintance to suggest this could be the greatest tune ever written. Here in Morpeth Dr Birkett alluded to the tune’s five key changes, saying he could manage three of them, Johnston indicating he could, perhaps, cope with three and a half of them. Further, Birkett pointed to a particularly fine enharmonic modulation at, or near, the tune’s end. Clearly, this required closer listening! Absolutely magical!

Django’s Nuages, Bradley Johnston’s James’ Waltz, written some seventy or more years apart, the latter lost little by comparison. You know it’s nearly time to go when Cherokee is on the set list. The non-jazz fan couldn’t fail to be impressed by the breakneck virtuosity, and this jazz fan, as always, was more than impressed. The audience response, sadly heard only in your correspondent’s head as the pair swopped solos, was ecstatic!

Birkett’s Suite 4 concluded the ‘recital’ and following a few words from the concert promoter, James Birkett and Bradley Johnston went out on a chorus of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.
Russell.

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