Jazz can be very much a forward-thinking genre; rarely static, but with a traditional core that unites its many wide-ranging sub-genres, its tentacles of sound, form and approach reach further than many other contemporary music styles.
Sage Gateshead’s International Jazz Festival, which takes place at the venue from Friday 31st March until Sunday 2nd April, serves to encapsulate as much of this variety as it can, in a programme which truly offers something for everyone.
At the weird and wonderful end of the scale, there is much to enjoy. A saxophone and drum duo may seem unusual in any other genre, but in jazz it fits in just fine; purveyors of semi-free jazz, Binker & Moses (Friday 31st) have garnered considerable praise since their inception a couple of years ago, and their live show often leaves an audience in raptures. Perhaps more excitingly, they’ll be joined by Strobes, which features musicians who have worked alongside such varied names as Squarepusher, Three Trapped Tigers and Matthew Herbert. Fusing live sampling and improvised electro, with oddball percussive elements and skewed time signatures aplenty, their performance will be a real cacophony of primal sound.
The bizarre world of acoustic-electronica outfit GoGo Penguin provides one of the festival’s must-see concerts, in their double header with Shobaleader One, the new project from musical chameleon Squarepusher (Saturday 1st). Expect adventurous sounds, beat-filled anthems and exciting innovation set to take audiences to another dimension entirely and where dancing is mandatory. Late night drama continues on Saturday thanks to an appearance from West Coast Get Down Collective founder Miles Mosely, who skilfully fuses upright bass with his soulful voice. Also on Saturday night, contemporary pianist Neil Cowley’s Trio continues to push boundaries with an epic performance of Spacebound Apes, a concept record which follows an inspiring character named Lincoln, complete with projected visuals further enhancing the weird and wonderful world of Cowley’s hypnotic drama.
Those who’d like to dip into the programme without also dipping into their pockets can enjoy a handful of free events throughout the weekend. Of particular note are BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Line-Up Stage on the Concourse on Saturday afternoon, which offers surprise special guests free of charge; while local aficionados Jazz North East bring the party on Sunday with an afternoon of free performances from the North East and further afield.
Regional talent is also represented by composer and pianist Paul Edis, who leads Sage Gateshead’s regional youth jazz ensemble Jambone, with guest spots from saxophonist Matt Anderson and vocalist Zoe Gilby (Sunday 2nd).
International flavours give the festival an inclusive feel and an exciting triple-bill courtesy of Jazz Africa/Jazz Cuba makes up the third headline spot on Sunday night, charting the jazz journey of musicians from very different regions. Described as ‘the African Sting’ (don’t let that put you off), bassist Richard Bona fuses roots music from Africa, South America and Cuba with his band Mandekan Cubano; also representing Cuban sounds, albeit from a different perspective, the Alfredo Rodriguez Trio perform imaginative, sultry piano-led pieces; while Shabaka Hutchins (Sons of Kemet, Melt Yourself Down, Sun Ra Arkestra) draw on a lineage of South African sounds to document the American jazz movement.
European collectives are also part of the mix; award-winning young instrumentalist and composer Laura Jurd brings her band Dinosaur to the festival (Friday 31st), demonstrating a vibrant sound which also features Elliot Galvin on keys, and manages to delightfully fuse jazz, rock and folk to brilliant effect. She’ll be sharing the stage with Norwegian composer and tuba player Daniel Herskedal, whose skill as a soloist is highly impressive. On Saturday, the UK’s National Youth Jazz Orchestra rub shoulders with their counterparts on the mainland, Germany’s BuJazzO and NJJO from the Netherlands, in a triple-header of emerging talent; while revered Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and his international quartet present fiery improv and formidable themes on Sunday.
Tradition is kept alive by Radio 2 favourite Clare Teal, who pays homage to the traditions of swing and the multitude of legendary songwriters and storytellers of the last 100 years (Friday 31st). Alongside her 17-piece Hollywood Orchestra, conducted by trumpeter Guy Barker, she’ll extol the virtues of the great and the good of the Great American and British Songbook, from Cole Porter and Tim Rice to Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Peggy Lee. Guest vocalists include singer-songwriter Ben Cipola and the young talent of Cherise Adams-Burnett. On Saturday, a concert celebrating the rich talents of iconic jazz club, Soho’s legendary Ronnie Scott’s, offers up world-class jazz teamed with archival images.
Workshops, film screenings and further surprises also make up the programme. Of particular note is a free screening of Misha And So On, a poignant and emotional film about the grand duke of jazz Misha Mengelberg, whose spiralling dementia forces him to take his final bow from the stage and his band the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra (Saturday 1st); the Orchestra themselves perform later that evening, demonstrating their highly eclectic and innovative sound which has seen the revolving cast of musicians collaborate with some giants of the experimental world, and on Sunday afternoon they’ll lead an improvisation masterclass.
One of the best things about GIJF is that you don’t need to be an aficionado to truly enjoy it; the majority of the programme is accessible for those new to the genre, and the venue’s multi-buy ticket options make it easy on the pocket too. It’s festivals like GIJF that cement Sage Gateshead’s reputation as forward-thinking and eclectic programmers, capable of pleasing die-hard fans and curious music lovers alike.