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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Nik Bartsch's Ronin At The Sage, Gateshead

I arrived in Newcastle just a little bit before 10.00 a.m. The town was quiet with a nice after-the-rain atmosphere.

I was due to meet up with David Symes who was up from Tring visiting pals in Sunderland and scheduled to see Fascinating Aida. Waiting for David to hove into view gave me an opportunity to take a look at Emerson Chambers, one of my favourite buildings in Newcastle.

When I was a kid I used to wonder if Dr. Stephen Strange lived up in those spooky-looking Ditko-esque attics.

David and I enjoyed breakfast and several pots of tea in Blake's as we caught up on personal news, gossip and the state of nations. We headed down Dean Street on our way to the quayside, pausing at my favourite railway viaduct.

Closely followed by my favourite bridge-building interface...

My favourite sequence of steps...

and my favourite 8 windows....

OK, I lied about the last one.

On the way to the Sage there was a jazz group playing by the Millennium bridge . I recognised the flautist as Bob Giddings. I can't remember the last time I saw Bob. He and I used to do improvised music back in 1970s and if memory serves me right, Bob kipped on my bedsit floor in Kimberley Gardens, Jesmond, when he was studying architecture. We managed to say hello whilst the sax player took a chorus but then he had to go back to playing the flute.

Onward and upward to The Sage...

We were here to see a matinee concert by two ECM recording artists.

First up in the splendid Hall 2 were the Marcin Wasilewski Trio. Although concert companion David had their latest album, I'd not heard the group before. They performed a decent set of flowing music but ultimately it was a little too swet for my tastes, and somehow never quite caught fire.

Nik Bartsch's Ronin on the other positively smoked from the first note to the last. Their brand of deep grooves worked in a similar way to the interlocking guitar parts created by Fripp and Belew on Discipline. The momentum and constant forward movement in the repetitive lines give the music an overwhelming tension.

With tension of course, comes the release. In this context, the smallest gesture becomes transformed into something almost earth-shattering: the single strike of a drum, a suddenly sustained note on the contra-bass clarinet or a clarion-call piano chord.

This album...

was one of my top albums of 2008

After the gig had finished, David went off to his third gig of the day (Fascinating Aida at the Theatre Royal) and I bumped into Avram Taylor.

Avram and I first met sometime back in the 80s when we briefly played a bit of guitar and bass together. Avram wisely decided that his guitar playing needed a surer hand on the bass guitar than I was able to provide, and since then we have established a highly random means of keeping in touch with each other aka bumping into each other at unexpected yet curiously regular intervals.

Having established that Avram was going to be around for a little while, I arranged to see him after the interview with Nik. Little did we realise that even this seemingly perfect plan was going to be subjected the Gods of Chance who govern the times and tides of our fleeting and essentially ephemeral relationship.

I headed downstairs where Nik and the boys were signing albums.

From there, we went backstage for a meal and a chat.

Thinking we might only grab ten or fifteen minutes (hence my arrangement with Avram), we ended up chatting for over an hour. Needless to say by the time I emerged into the main hall, Avram had quite rightly moved off. A wonderful concert gave way to a wonderful evening view of the Tyne Bridge and the city.

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