The 3rd Gateshead Jazz Festival has come and gone. Buddy K's bro, the Jazz Geologist, was ill with bronchitis, so I got to use his tickets, and there were several good acts.
My jazz weekend got off to a poor start on Friday with Byron Wallen's Meeting Ground. Wallen's a competent enough trumpeter, and Tony Kofi on baritone sax was excellent, but the highlight of the set was supposed to be the addition of a Gnawa Sufi singer from Morocco, Boujamaa Bouboul. "When I first heard him sing," said Wallen, "it was like the first time I heard Louis Arnstrong play." Wow, I thought, must be good.
Then on shambles this guy in ethnic tie-dies and dreads with a tall gangly mate in tow. What a let-down! I like North African singing, and I note that the Guardian review of the record, quoted on the Amazon site, calls his voice "mesmerising." but last Friday this guy really couldn't sing. Maybe he'd been on the piss. He was flat half the time and the other half you couldn't hear him. His mate stood at the back and clacked some clackers made from what looked like rusty tin. The pair of them gave the impression of having been pulled in off the street and put into some ethnic clothes and told to get out there and do their best. Tony Kofi looked embarrassed. Poot.
The late night entertainment was provided by Bill Bruford and Michiel Borstlap. Drums and piano might not sound like a promising combination, but they were excellent, improvising most of the time and watching each other all the time for cues. They were obviously having a great time and Bruford was superb, using the drums as an instrument, rather than just a rhythm supply. Pity I could only stay for an hour.
The Chris Bowden Trio were the support on Saturday night. Never seen him before, but I'd like to again. The drums and electric bass were a solid armature for Bowden's saxophone solos, described accurately in the programme as "atmospheric ... resonant of film noir soundtracks and with the energy of early bebop."
And then it was time for the great EST (Esbjorn Svensson Trio). Sweden's greatest export since Abba. Svensson on piano is simply stunning; I was able to see his playing technique better than usual by virtue of the big posterised video images being projected live behind him and I realised for the first time how little he uses chords - he plays runs and trills and arpeggios, which must be very tiring and not helped by his posture, slumped over the keyboard.
Dan Berglund on upright bass was quite startling this time too (I've seen them twice before), using effects filters to distort the sound to the point that it began to resemble Hendrix-like feedback. Thrilling.
When Sunday rolled around, we were all excited. This was Patsy123's Big Day. And what a Big Day it was. Andy Sheppard and John Parricelli took the stage first and played some of her favourite pieces from their PS album, then Kuljit Bhamra joined them on tablas and as they played through what I took to be a track from Sheppard's new (downloadable) CD, The Birds, the choir filed onto stage and they launched seamlessly into Glossolalia (Speaking in Tongues), Andy's composition for saxophones, guitar, tabla, percussion and choir, describing the building and destruction of the Tower of Babel.
I don't know quite what I'd expected. I'd heard the CD recorded at last year's performance in Norwich and I'd heard Patsy123 singing little bits to herself, but the actuality was something else. Described afterwards by Buddy K as " a cross between Ligeti and the Honda car ad," the first section was a slowly building collage of clicks, stutters, bits of alphabet and meaningless words. Gradually it took form and became a joyous and lyrical piece with great solos from Andy on tenor and soprano saxes. (I'm always in awe of his circular breathing performances.) And Kuljit Bhamra was just wonderful, his tablas making echoes and counterpoints with the choir.
The choir were superb. Composed of elements from the North-East and from Norwich, all are amateur, but you'd never know it. Their performance was outstanding and their conductor's bum was hypnotic.
The reception was rapturous. The crowd roared out its approval and kept up a constant applause until the last of the choir had left the stage. I think Patsy123 can be justifiably proud of her achievement and that of her co-performers. And now she tells me Andy wants to take the piece to the London Jazz Festival and I'm sure he wouldn't dream of doing it without her.
I know the Barbican isn't a patch on The Sage Gateshead, but hey, it'll do.