I spent two years living in Newcastle, and when I read jazz guitarist’s, James Kitchman’s biography, after listening to his excellent new album, First Quartet on repeat, I was unsurprised to learn he hails from Northumberland. Whilst he may have come a long way since then, both figuratively and literally, a place so wonderfully beautiful, with such an unassailable sense of identity, must leave a formative impression – perhaps it is why the North East has such a rich history of producing remarkable musicians and James Kitchman is certainly another name to be added to the list.
First Quartet is Kitchman’s first attempt at leading a quartet – the name of the album is quite apt – yet it does not sound that way in the slightest, except in the sense that it is an exciting and authentic piece of work, unshrouded by worries and expectations. Tracks are well textured and feel easy to listen to. Collaborators Bruno Heinen, Tom McCredie and Shane Forbes work comfortably together under the guitarist’s leadership.
The opening track, Making the World Disappear, tells the story of empty streets during the lockdown period. This track captures the eery but contemplative, calm and still atmosphere which settled as the world quietened and everything seemed to slow.
Perhaps the most interesting track on the album is Control the Weather. Edgy and honest, it offers a political statement, a criticism even, at a time when there are questions to be answered. With extracts from a speech about governments and political systems, interspersed between fluid guitar grooves, and striking piano chords, there is a sense of urgency and tension absent from the rest of the album. Passages of purposeful discord and disharmony offer a gripping listen.
The general mood on First Quartet, however, feels extremely melodic and tranquil, an atmosphere particularly obvious on the final track First Day as the group take an optimistic look to a new future. A highlight throughout is Kitchman’s unquestionable guitaring ability which breaths a unique and authentic sense of character into it all.
Watch a clip of the band playing First Day at the London Jazz Festival here:
Review: Elana Shapiro