Friday, 28 March 2008

Alexander von Schlippenbach @ The Sage...

Just back from my first gig of this year's Gateshead International Jazz Festival. Actually, with such a dull programme there will only be one more gig for me this year, but more of that later. There was certainly nothing dull about the gig tonight - a quartet of Alexander von Schlippenbach, Alan Wilkinson, Joe Williamson and Eddie Prévost.

Now in his 71st year, Schlippenbach remains as vital as ever. He opened the gig with a long solo piece that was measured but edgy. A short excursion through a Monk medley placed him very much in the jazz camp, and there may even have been some of Dolphy's 'Something Sweet, Something Tender' in there. Hard to tell, but if it were easy would it be a Schlippenbach gig? Would it even be worthwhile? Questions perhaps best addressed to the throngs in the main hall who were simultaneously digging the 'Blue Note Night' (which strangely featured only one Blue Note artist - Robert Glasper, who I'd like to have seen were it not for the clash), and of course Sir John Dankworth & Dame Cleo Laine.

The discerning few who opted for the free-jazz event were next treated to a duo between AvS and Prévost. With a turnover of ideas almost as rapid as his changes of sticks, Eddie masterfully shadowed Schlippenbach. Regular readers (are there any?) will know how much I like AMM, but in this context Prévost was a different animal. Yes there were extended techniques, but there was a rhythmic buoyancy to his percussion that was very much 'in the tradition'.

Almost an hour had passed and there was still no sight of Alan Wilkinson. Perhaps a wise programmatic selection, given the saxophonist's propensity to scare an audience then clear the room. Or perhaps he missed the first set because Dame Cleo wanted him up on stage with her group? That would be nice.

When he did appear for the full quartet pieces which occupied the entire second set, Wilkinson displayed a remarkable amount of discipline and restraint for lengthy periods. That, I'm sure you'll understand, is a relative statement. Very little of AvS was heard after the interval, and even when Williamson was taking some pretty interesting bass features, Wilkinson stood right in front of him and hogged centre stage. His quasi-sexual reed sucking was funny however, and his deranged scat left little doubt that he was taking things to the edge and giving his all. In the words of Miles though, he should 'try taking the motherfucking horn out of his mouth' once in a while.

Top marks to my old understudy (tongue-in-cheek) Paul Bream for bringing this one to the North East. When I booked Alan Wilkinson with Hession/Wilkinson/Fell at the Live Theatre (Newcastle) over a decade ago, only 13 people bothered to attend. Tonight saw a healthy turn-out in a magnificent venue with perfect acoustics and four musicians with lots to say. Not exactly mainstream, challenging musics are nevertheless receiving regular exposure in this northern outpost of the UK. That has to be good news, and it's all I ever set out to achieve when I first dabbled in 'promotions'. Long may it continue.

Next (for me) on Sunday night is John Scofield. From the ridiculous to the sublime? Perhaps.

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