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The Journal: Gateshead International Jazz Festival

Posted on 10 April 2011

Soweto Kinch Quartet, and Joe Lovano

Paul Lorraine, The Journal

FEARLESS, charismatic and intelligent, the Soweto Kinch Quartet don’t do ‘background jazz’.

Appearing in the Sage’s Sage Two late on Friday evening, Kinch’s twin talents for saxophone and rap were both deployed with a passion that announced itself right from the off.

His band – Femi Temowo on guitar, Karl Rasheed-Abel on bass and Graham Godfrey on drums – are equally at home playing straight-ahead swing or brilliantly sparse hip-hop.

The Mercury Prize nominee was also on fine lyrical form on the saxophone in An Ancient Worksong and A People With No Past.

The gig ended with Kinch freestyling over an improvised bass-line, taking as his subject matter words offered by the audience.

The words spelled out a running theme in Kinch’s music, ‘freedom’, and the Sage Two crowd’s offerings showed something of our current preoccupation with all things money-related.

On Saturday evening, Sage One played host to two of the festival’s big-names, saxophonist Joe Lovano with ‘Us Five’ and guitarist Mike Stern’s band.

Both sets of musicians were of a ridiculously high calibre but there was a nice contrast in their styles which gave us something of everything.

Lovano’s playing was always engaging as he played songs from his new recording Bird Songs – an exploration of the music of Charlie Parker – among some other compositions.

Pianist James Weidman also balanced some challenging harmonic ideas in his solos with a sense of something more traditional and bluesy.

The band included two drummers – Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela – and their playing was done with a great deal of freedom and flair, each using a great deal of percussion over and above their kits.

Indeed, drummers in the audience had a treat all night with Dave Weckl as crisp and flawless as ever behind Mike Stern’s jazz-fusion.

His playing and indeed, that of the whole band, was a great deal more accessible than that of ‘Us Five’, with the emphasis on grooves and melody.

Stern – the most inappropriately named man alive – was constantly beaming, scanning the first few rows of the crowd to find someone who seemed to be enjoying it before flashing more teeth in their direction. Apart from a nagging fear that Mike was going to look at me for reassurance next, his sheer love for it was enough to make it a very enjoyable set.

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