Gateshead International Jazz Festival hits 10 in style with jazz stars and newcomers alike

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Amidst the sweeping glass curves of the Sage Gateshead, the weekend-long festival got off to a strong start on Friday night with the irrepressible Django Bates at the helm. Backed by his Belovèd trio and Swedish sparring partners the Norrbotten Big Band, the pianist led a tribute to the music of Charlie Parker which received its UK premier at last year's BBC Proms. Subversive and unrestrained, this was Parker taken through a hall of mirrors, hand-in-hand with an impish Bates. Bebop heads were bent and buckled, emerging in the brass before melting into passages of rhythm section-led free improvisation. It had the audience on the edge of their seats (read full review here).

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As if to hammer home the festival's commitment to variety, what followed was a blistering performance from the Robert Glasper Experiment, who brought their unique blend of jazz, hip hop, funk and electronica to a packed Hall Two. Virtuosic and immaculately paced, Glasper improvisations soared above visceral bass grooves and whirlwind drum breaks as the group powered through covers, including Daft Punk's ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘Lovely Day’ by Bill Withers, alongside tracks from their new album, Black Radio 2 (read full review here).

Informally dubbed the Day of the Saxophone, Saturday saw horns aplenty, with matinee sets from Jason Yarde and Andrew McCormack (pictured above) followed by former Jazz Messenger Jean Toussaint. Supported by pizzicato flurries and delicate counterpoint from collaborators the Elysian String Quartet, Yarde and McCormack performed a beguiling set of originals. With energy and spirit that recalled Coltrane, Toussaint freed things up and gave the audience a taste of burning, post-bop swing – the first of the weekend.

Later that night, young tenor saxophonist Marius Neset and tuba player Daniel Herskedal brought to bear astonishing technique and youthful exuberance with marching band grooves and nostalgic Scandinavian folk melodies.

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Before a crowd pleasing set from Courtney Pine, the icing on the cake would have been a stellar performance from headliners the Spring Quartet (pictured above), featuring Jack DeJohnette, Joe Lovano, Esperanza Spalding, and her pianist of choice, Leo Genovese. But while there were some scintillating moments of free improv, much of the set felt aimless, not least when DeJohnette's announcements on the mic descended into groans and streams of fragmented sentences that seemed out of place.

Overdriven rock and experimental electronics characterised the final afternoon of the festival, with a double bill featuring local group Shiver and a rhythmically inventive set from Seb Rochford's Polar Bear. Tommy Smith and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra kept the party going with a swaggering Ellington tribute, but performances from Bill Frisell and the breathtaking Pablo Held Trio proved that the best had been saved until last.

Eschewing pre-arranged forms, the trio, led by Held on piano, displayed masterful sensitivity and interaction, playing richly varied originals that glistened with arco bass harmonics, subtle grooves and twisting melodies. Lilting folk tunes, standards, and country music melodies from Frisell, accompanied by Eyvind Kang on viola and drummer Rudy Royston, were equally captivating and assured – a superb conclusion to a festival turning 10 in style.

– Thomas Rees (@ThomasNRees)
– Photos © Tim Dickeson