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Saturday, October 06, 2018

George Sykes & Friends @ Prohibition Bar - October 5

George Sykes Quartet: George Sykes (tenor saxophone); Alan Law (piano); Paul Grainger (double bass, bass guitar); Joe Shaw (drums) + Julija Jacenaite (vocals); Jason Holcomb (trombone); Holly Sykes (trumpet); Craig Irving (guitar)
(Review by Russell)
George Sykes and Friends…exactly as anticipated a ‘friendly’ gathering of friends, acquaintances old and new. Tenor saxophonist George Sykes has made quite an impact on the local scene sitting-in around town, standing toe-to-toe with the north east’s big hitters. A ready smile, appreciative of his fellow musicians, a nice bloke, that’s Newcastle University student Sykes.    

‘Spillett tempo’, the first scribbled note. No messing around, straight in with a super-fast Devil May Care. We got the Harry Warren chart, Johnny Burke’s lyrics were for another time. Matching Sykes all the way were pianist Alan Law, double bass man Paul Grainger and a new face, Joe Shaw, drums. Sykes and Shaw go back to their days on the Leicestershire proving ground of the youth big band scene. Shaw is yet another medic (there’s something about medicine and music, ostensibly an unlikely meeting of arts and sciences) more than capable of playing jazz to a high standard.
A Dizzying Night in Tunisia maintained the feverish tempo until JJ walked in. Julija Jacenaite hadn’t been sighted for some time and within minutes she had joined the boys for a slow take on All of Me. Slow that is, for the first verse, then a snap of her fingers and we were off again at a lick.   

High octane playing is thrilling stuff, that’s for sure, but it was Sykes who produced something unexpected, something rather special, with a heart-felt tribute to the late Barrie ‘Baz’ Ascroft. Out tenor man spoke warmly of Barrie’s supportive, welcoming demeanour at Dave Weisser’s Take it to the Bridge jazz workshop. Alan Law knew Barrie well and he too remembered the good times. In a Sentimental Mood was for Barrie. A memorable moment.

Blue Bossa, Shaw handling the Latin rhythms with ease, Law in his element, it was time to introduce one or two guests. For one number only (he didn’t hang around),  suited and booted in regulation Friday evening ‘function gig’ apparel, step forward, Jason Holcomb. The globe-trotting American trombonist is heard rarely on the jazz scene but when he is around, it’s worth the wait. There Will Never Be Another You (more Harry Warren) featured Holcomb’s cast iron trombone playing alongside the vocals of the returning Jacenaite. And he was gone. A new name to note is that of guitarist Craig Irving, featured this evening on Cantaloupe Island  Craig is another friend of George. Let’s hear Craig and drummer Joe sitting-in at jam sessions!

It was gone eleven and almost time to go but, but…George invited his ‘little sister’ Holly Sykes to join the party on Sunny Side of the Street! Holly plays trumpet. Big brother George insisted she stay on for the closer. When the Saints went down a treat as big brother George encouraged Holly to play another chorus. Great stuff. The place went nuts!  
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Alice Grace Trio: Alice Grace (vocals); Alan Law (piano); Paul Grainger (double bass) 

Earlier in the evening Alice Grace sang. A guest of Sykes, Ms Grace, a top drawer attraction in her own right was playing a first gig with Alan Law. On the evidence of this evening’s performance , supported by the redoubtable Paul Grainger, it would come as little surprise if further gigs were to be listed on Bebop Spoken Here.     

Ms Grace suggested she felt a little nervous in such an intimate setting without the security blanket of a roaring big band behind her. Ah, we know better, don’t we? An opening But Not for Me through to Blue Skies and on to As Time Goes By, this was  nothing other than a vocal masterclass. It Could Happen to You (comp. Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics Johnny  Burke), on this occasion including Johnny Burke’s lyrics, the scatting Ms Grace held Prohibition Bar’s audience in the palm of her hand. One Note Samba (the tune with more than one note!), then a favourite tune  of pianist Alan Law – Bye Bye Blackbird. As a support set how lucky were we? Alice Grace is a headline act, anywhere, anytime.    
Russell      

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