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Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Newcastle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music: Charkie Parlour + Alembic @ the Lit & Phil – Oct. 4

(Review by Dave Clarke).

In introducing the second concert of this year’s festival, producer Wes Stevenson explained that his goal was to help to raise the profile of Newcastle’s existing jazz venues and attract new audiences to them. He thanked Paul Edis and the Lit and Phil for helping to make today’s show a sell-out.

Charkie Parlour: John Garner (violin); Mark Williams (guitar); John Pope (double bass/bass guitar); Russ Morgan (drums).

Charkie Parlour, was formed in 2017 as a vessel for exploring new music but having only played one gig in the North East at The Globe (and one in Edinburgh) they might as well be regarded as brand new as far as public reputation is concerned. However, performance-wise one would think they’d been regularly gigging together for years. We are of course talking about three of the region’s finest jazz musicians in Mark Williams, Russ Morgan and John Pope. I say three because, until today, violinist and bandleader John Garner was an unknown quantity to me. After today, make that four.  In our region the violin in jazz has, up until now, been confined to the earlier styles of the music though that’s not the case elsewhere in the world.

Garner is also an impressive composer.

Although the band’s set began with a very brief passage of free improvisation followed by a tune written by John Pope all of the other music played was by the band’s leader.  For their gig at The Globe they told audiences to expect to hear influences from South Indian Carnatic music, from South Africa, from classical music and from British folk music. I’m not sure that I picked out all of those at the Lit and Phil but the band was certainly rooted in the jazz idiom at the relatively conventional end of contemporary jazz, and none the worse for that. There were also two definite examples of aleatoric composition.

Aleatoric  music is music  left to chance, composed partly or even wholly using the throw of a dice.  Garner had reservations about these two aleatoric pieces which were taken from a suite he wrote inspired by Kahlil Gibran’s  The Prophet, but  for me their Middle Eastern flavour and the arrangement - with the violin out front and the powerful unison rhythm from the band - made them close to being my favourite part of the set.

I’m afraid I can’t remember the names of all of the compositions. There was a definite sense of humour and optimism at play though in Even When It’s Raining the Sun Is Always Shining and in the closing blues, The Bump which was inspired by pregnancy.

All in all I really loved this band and its music and very much hope to see more of them. My one reservation - and it’s shared with a number of people I’ve spoken to - is I don’t much like the name Charkie Parlour. People have told me it makes them think of a tribute act and that clearly is far from the truth. Their music is very much their own and they’re all very much their own men.
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Earlier, the afternoon had opened with a set by the newly formed duo Alembic.
Alembic: Melanie Fox (vocals); Paul Taylor (piano).

Paul Taylor has developed a considerable reputation as a solo pianist in the North East and has recently extended his reputation further afield with the help of a Northern Line subsidy. Melanie Fox has been working with Paul for some months now and thanks to being selected for participation in Sage Gateshead’s Summer Studios scheme the duo have been able to work intensively on the material revealed to us today at the Lit and Phil.

Running through their programme were the joint themes of the air and the sea taken from poems and prose by two writers from very different eras: Shakespeare and the twentieth century Scot George MacKay Brown.  They began with lines by Caliban (air) in The Tempest and by Ariel (sea) in the same play, first spoken by Mel then, with Paul’s accompaniment, sung.

The second half of Alembic’s set revolved around MacKay Brown’s The Sea, and Drops of Light, a poem and short story on a theme of the air. Melanie’s passion for the writer was very apparent and Paul’s music fitted well. Something totally new for Tyneside. Congratulations to them both.
Dave C

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