Joshua Redman, Reuben Rogers, Gregory Hutchinson; Andy Sheppard & Rita Marcotulli at 2015 Gateshead

Joshua Redman, Reuben Rogers, Gregory Hutchinson
Photo Credit: Sage Gateshead
Joshua Redman, Reuben Rogers, Gregory Hutchinson; Andy Sheppard & Rita Marcotulli
(Gateshead International Jazz Festival 2015. Review by Phil Johnson)

A sharp-suited Joshua Redman began proceedings with a sociological observation. "Have you noticed that people here start drinking really early ?", he confided , explaining that he'd nipped out in search of an espresso and found himself surrounded by garishly costumed Stags and Hens. "Maybe I should have a couple of pints myself", he added later, and in retrospect, yes he probably should have done.

Unfailingly charming as a frontman , a selfless bandleader and a terrific saxophonist, all Joshua Redman needed to do was to light the blue touch paper of his group, stand well back and let the combustion begin . With a hotshot trio renowned for the intensity of their performances , featuring one of the most exciting drummers in the world - the fearsomely accomplished Gregory Hutchinson - and a recent album, 'Trios Live' apparently dedicated to exactly that piratical swagger associated with the Village Vanguard trios of Sonny Rollins, everything seemed set up perfectly yet it took a good hour to stoke up some heat.

They began with a quietly forceful Surrey with the Fringe on the Top, the gorgeous tune - once a memorable scatting feature for Betty Carter - made into a series of short staccato blasts by Redman's tenor sax, with Hurchinson grounding the stop-start tempo with powerful shuffle-rhythms . As an opener , it was great but several of the original Redman compositions that followed failed to imprint themselves on the memory and the gathering intensity rather stalled.

A tune by Mat Penman, Redman's colleague in James Farm, and a standard ballad, Never Let Me Go were impeccably tasteful, but it was late in the day before anyone did any serious sweating , or Hutchinson showed us how truly monstrous a drummer he can be.

Not that jazz needs to be judged by sweat and brute force alone, of course. But when you've got one of the great cooking trios in front of you (and I'd seen them play at triple the intensity at a previous show a few years ago), you can be forgiven for wanting at least a little more heat than we got, solid enough performance as it was.

o - o - o - o

Andy Sheppard, who opened for Loose Tubes in Hall One on Sunday Night, playing in a duo with the marvellous Italian pianist Rita Marcotulli, delivers intensity in a kind of slow release drip. His playing on either tenor or soprano saxophones specialises in the gradual accretion of expressive effects, from big breathy gouts to little hiccup-like chirps.

It's a familiar method, as he's been perfecting such an approach for years, but this doesn't render it any less effective. The longstanding occasional partnership with Marcotulli also represents perhaps his most successful musical setting, as the playfulness of her customary style allows her to combine the essential role of foil with unusual gracefulness and wit, while delivering solo after solo with unerring conviction. She's a fascinating composer, too, and twenty years ago produced one of the best of all post-modern jazz albums, The Woman Next Door, an imaginative suite dedicated to the films of Francois Truffaut.

They played for 45 minutes, moving from chasing each other's melodic tails with mirrored sounds suggestive of birdsong, to grand sensitive ballads, Sheppard alternating tenor and soprano throughout the set.

If at times they seemed to spread themselves a little thinly between the musical jokes and bagatelles, the performance more than fulfilled its essential function as a pleasing opening diversion before the evening's main event.

Gateshead Jazz Festival website

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