by Ian Mann
April 30, 2019
Ian Mann enjoys the third edition of the genre defying Surge In Spring Festival, coordinated by Birmingham based musician, composer, arranger, bandleader, poet and educator Sid Peacock
SURGE IN SPRING III, MIDLANDS ARTS CENTRE (MAC), CANNON HILL PARK, BIRMINGHAM, 27/04/2019.
This all day event utilising the various performance spaces at the ‘mac’ was the third in the series of Surge In Spring festivals established in 2017 by the Birmingham based musician, composer, poet, bandleader and educator Sid Peacock.
Originally from Bangor in Northern Ireland Peacock has been resident in Birmingham since the late 1990s following his graduation from the city’s Conservatoire, an organisation with whom he maintains close links.
A particularly open minded musician Peacock is dismissive of generic, disciplinary and cultural boundaries and is involved in a broad range of musical and other artistic activities.
Surge In Spring is named after one of Peacock’s primary creative outlets, his unique jazz/folk large ensemble Surge Orchestra. Today also marked the official release date of Surge Orchestra’s latest album release “Valley Of Angels”, a recording that has already been reviewed on the Jazzmann website. http://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/surge-orchestra-valley-of-angels/
The success of the inaugural Surge In Spring event led to a second Festival in 2018, which unfortunately I was unable to attend due to prior commitments. My account of the 2017 event can be read here;
2019 followed a similar pattern to previous years with three ticketed events being held in the mac’s main performance space, the 219 seater Theatre. These were performance by the Mike Fletcher Jazz Orchestra, the Kadialy Kouyate Band and, of course, Peacock’s own Surge Orchestra, effectively the Festival headliners.
The Surge In Spring ethos is for the Festival to spread to spread its musical and geographical net widely. The other performances embraced a wide range of folk musics from around the world alongside various facets of contemporary jazz - and with most of the performers actually being based in Birmingham it was a superb demonstration of just how diverse a city Birmingham has become in the cultural sense.
Music education has also been an important part of Peacock’s work and this has also been incorporated into the Surge In Spring remit. Peacock has always encouraged emerging musical talent and many of today’s performers were young musicians, grateful to be given an opportunity to present their music at an event that is becoming an increasingly important part of Birmingham’s cultural calendar.
On then, to the first event of the day and;
MOSELEY MISFITS, HEXAGON THEATRE
The first act to appear in the intimate confines of the 84 seat Hexagon Theatre were the Moseley Misfits, a community band from the Moseley district of Birmingham. Peacock is keen to encourage musicians of all ages and this was ‘ a community group for adults who play any instrument to any ability’, as opposed to a youth ensemble.
The tiny stage at the Hexagon played host to three guitarists, two electric bassists, two alto saxophonists, two violinists, two accordionists and two percussionists playing tambourine and shakers.
This being a community band the line up can vary, but these were the performers available for today.
The group is led by composer and educator Rob Jones (one of today’s alto saxophonists) and Reuben Penny, who acted as conductor, and rehearses once a week during school term times.
Only formed in November 2018 the band has already achieved an impressive level of competence, as was demonstrated by today’s performance. But, crucially, it’s all about fun, and with some members of the group making their first ever public performance it was an impressive display from these keen amateur musicians.
Penny conducted and presented with good humour and with the encouragement of a very supportive audience this midday show was a triumph for the Moseley Misfits. There were no individual solos but under the guidance of Jones and Penny the group achieved an impressively coherent ensemble sound as it tackled material ranging from Toto’s “Africa” through Henry Mancini’s “Baby Elephant Walk” to The Beatles’ “Blackbird”. Despite the absence of a drum kit – therefore no Animal impressions - they gamely tackled “The Muppet Show Theme” and rounded things off with Elvis Presley’s “Falling In Love With You”. Unanticipated demands for an encore led to a reprise of “Africa”.
Next term the Moseley Misfits will be tackling a series of arrangements of movie themes and hope to make another public performance at a Birmingham venue yet to be decided sometime in July 2019.
This was a good, fun way to start the day and won the approval of a beaming Sid Peacock who had witnessed the performance as a member of the audience.
MIKE FLETCHER JAZZ ORCHESTRA, MAIN THEATRE
Saxophonist and composer Mike Fletcher has been a mainstay of the Birmingham jazz scene for a number of years, both as a prolific sideman and as the leader of his own groups, including his highly interactive trio with bassist Olie Brice and drummer Jeff Williams with whom he released the album “Vuelta” on Birmingham’s own Stoney Lane Record label in 2015.
He has also worked in a trio setting with Brice and drummer Tymek Jozwiak, releasing the wholly improvised album “Nick Of Time” on the Slam record label in 2014.
Fletcher also writes for and leads larger ensembles such as the Mike Fletcher Jazz Orchestra (MFJO) which today consisted of a slimmed down twelve piece unit featuring;
Mike Fletcher, John O’Gallagher – alto saxes
George Crowley – tenor sax, bass clarinet
Sean Gibbs, Sam Wooster, Aaron Diaz – trumpets
Richard Foote, Kieran McLeod – trombones
Andy Johnson – tuba
Tom Ford – guitar
Chris Mapp - electric bass
Jonathan Silk – drums
The occasion represented the première of Fletcher’s new work “Picasso(s); Interactions” which its composer describes as “a new suite for improvisers inspired by Picasso’s ‘Las Meninas’ and Coleman Hawkins’ ‘Picasso’. “
More on that later.
Today’s musical performance began with the MFJO playing a segue of three movements from an earlier suite, “Different Trane”, inspired by the music of John Coltrane and Steve Reich.
Diaz introduced the first movement on unaccompanied trumpet, his lone horn subsequently joined by the deep brass sonorities of Foote, McLeod and Johnson and by the Harmon muted sounds of his trumpet peers Gibbs and Wooster -suggestions here of Coltrane’s “Africa Brass”.
Diaz continued to solo on the open horn, his sound lonely and slightly baleful as Mapp and Silk provided minimal accompaniment, the drummer deploying mallets.
Next, a slightly discordant passage with the textured layers of brass punctuated by the sharper stabs of the reeds, this leading into an incisive alto solo from O’ Gallagher. This, in turn, was followed by a quieter, almost pastoral passage featuring the Frisell like tones of Ford’s guitar in conjunction with Mapp’s electric bass counterpoint and Silk’s mallet rumbles.
Next came the new “Picasso(s); Interactions” suite. The concert had been preceded by an audience discussion with Fletcher presided over by Tony Dudley Evans, whose TDE Promotions were co-presenting this particular event. A hand out was given to audience members as they entered the theatre in which Fletcher answers five questions from an Imagined Audience Member before raising a few of his own.
The text of the hand out is reproduced below;
“Five questions from an imagined audience member .
Imagined Audience Member: What is the connection to Picasso?
Mike Fletcher: At the beginning of my PhD in early 2015 I found myself in Barcelona with some free time so I went to the Museo Picasso, where I discovered his Las Meninas exhibition, which is a collection of 58 paintings that he made based on the much earlier Velazquez painting of the same name. The paintings themselves are, of course, wonderful pieces of art in their own right, but what caught my attention was a short extract from a letter Picasso wrote to his friend Sabartes where the artist explained his process, which I’ll paraphrase here. He said something along the lines of “if I were to undertake a faithful copy of Velazquez’s Las Meninas, there would come a time when I would perhaps be impelled to make a small change, and as a result of this first change more would follow. Gradually it would cease to be a copy and become my (Picasso’s) Las Meninas.”
As a jazz musician I found this description to be resonant of the way we improvise on standard compositions. So I decided to see if I could apply Picasso’s process to my own music making.
IAM: What about Coleman Hawkins?
MF: Picasso’s project involved copying a seminal masterpiece of Spanish painting. In order to ‘copy’ Picasso’s process I would have to find a similar masterpiece from within my own discipline. I had already decided that it should be a solo saxophone project, so it was an easy decision to make. I would copy the first great solo saxophone piece. A beautiful coincidence is that the first major recording made by a solo saxophonist was Coleman Hawkins’ 1948 recording Picasso – hence the title Picasso(s).
IAM: Why is this music any different to what you’ve done before?
MF: The most apparent difference is that it represents the first time I’ve done a project completely on my own. That said, perhaps the most important difference in terms of the music is that it is all based on a technique I call ‘pitch limitation’.
Picasso based his Las Meninas entirely on the structure and content of the Velazquez. This is to say that, although he made many changes to the way he depicted Velazquez’ tableau, he didn’t add in any extra figures or objects. I felt like this was an important part of the procedure, so I decided to do the same with the Hawkins piece. In other words, I transcribed Hawkins’ notes, and throughout the piece, these are the only notes I permit myself to use.
In this sense I would argue that this is quite a novel approach to jazz performance because in almost every other type of jazz, the musician is free to choose the notes he or she likes!
IAM: But isn’t Picasso(s):Interactions a large ensemble project?
MF: Yes. The original Picasso(s) was a solo piece (which was the basis of my PhD, and is also available as an album). What I have done with the Interactions stage is to apply the same pitch limitation process to my large ensemble, MFJO. The suite is in three parts, each of which is based on a different way of using Hawkins’ notes, but the common thread is that you won’t hear any other notes throughout the suite!
IAM: Does improvising in this way make a difference to the musicians’ experience?
MF: This was one of the questions I asked myself when I began the project. I can report that it very much does – perhaps more than I had anticipated.
Improvisers frequently talk about the way that they form habits that, over time, lead them to develop certain formulae. As a result many of us try and find ways to stimulate new ideas. The pitch limitation concept was my way of doing this. I have found that, when performing the piece, an idea occurs to me that I can’t complete because the notes I need to complete the phrase are not available. Consequently I have to find a way of resolving the phrase that would not have occurred to me had I followed the first idea. I find this a challenging but very rewarding way of improvising.
Now I have employed the same technique for the large ensemble, the rest of the guys in the band are faced with the same challenge!
Five questions for my audience:
Do you think it is important/valuable for an audience member to understand the processes that musicians use in performance?
If so, do you consider it the responsibility of the musician to inform the listener, or the listener to inform his or herself? If not, why not?
Do you think you would have noticed any difference in musical approach without having had it explained?
Do you think this type of verbal interaction could be relevant to other types of jazz performance?
Is it jazz?”
This is all interesting musical and philosophical stuff and provoked a lively debate among those present. One AM declared that he just wanted to listen to and enjoy the music and wasn’t at all interested in the theories or methods behind it. Others disagreed, sometimes quite strongly.
For myself I’ve always found that having some background information helps to enhance my appreciation and enjoyment of the work in question. Some knowledge of the intentions of the composer gives one an additional incentive to listen out for things, and to absorb oneself more fully in the music. It helps to heighten the senses – and in my case it is often very useful if you’re going to be having to write about it afterwards.
Now I can’t claim to have understood everything about Fletcher’s piece but the talk and handout did serve to open my ears.
With Fletcher now conducting rather than playing the music was more abstract than the earlier Coltrane/Reich suite. With the limitations imposed upon the performers there was no soloing in the conventional sense although certain instruments achieved prominence at times, notably O’Gallagher’s alto and Foote’s trombone. Often two instruments would seem to be in dialogue within the overall framework of the ensemble and the piece concluded with the sound of O’Gallagher’s unaccompanied alto.
“He’d still got some notes saved up” explained Fletcher in the post performance Q & A in which he also explained the hand signals with which he’d conducted the band, himself forming part of the improvisatory process. Fletcher spoke again of the influence on his musical and academic work of the pioneering American alto player, composer and improviser Steve Lacey.
There was much to admire and enjoy in this set by the MFJO. The new Picasso suite is clearly a work in progress and overall the performance as whole came over as being a little too dry and academic at times. But with a band of this calibre, featuring many of the leading musicians on the Birmingham jazz scene, there were still plenty of stand out moments.
The pre and post Q & As were also stimulating and thought provoking and added to the overall experience.
GERMA ADAN and JOBE BAKER SULLIVAN, HEXAGON THEATRE
Across at the Hexagon a performance was already under way from the young Haitian singer, songwriter, violinist and guitarist Germa Adan. Now based in Birmingham she was accompanied by Jobe Baker Sullivan on violin and backing vocals.
The material consisted of traditional Haitian folk songs, sung in French or Creole, interspersed with Adan written originals with English lyrics. The latter included “Hush”, inspired by a chance meeting between Adan and a Syrian refugee in Birmingham’s Central Library, a song that fitted neatly into Surge’s international, multi-cultural ethos.
With her pure, clear vocals, accomplished instrumental skills and very natural charm Adan was well received by the audience within the Hexagon, even persuading them to join in the choruses of a couple of traditional Haitian folk songs.
RICHARD LAIRD, HEXAGON THEATRE
I’m grateful to Sid Peacock for organising press tickets for my wife and myself for Surge III. One act that he strongly recommended I check out was his compatriot Richard Laird, a singer, guitarist and songwriter from Derry, Northern Ireland.
Although well known in his homeland Laird’s profile in the rest of the UK is low, hence Peacock’s determination to bring him to Birmingham.
For today’s all too brief set in the Hexagon Laird was accompanied by Ruth Angell on violin and Sarah Farmer on viola, the strings adding extra colour, depth and texture to the music.
Laird is softly spoken but sings with great power and authority in a way that reminded me of Christy Moore.
In the early 21st century Laird was involved in a songwriting project, “Boys Of The Island”, commemorating Ireland’s involvement in the First World War. Collaborating with the later Sam Starrett and with violinist/harpist Tracey McRory under the group name Songshed the trio wrote several songs relating to this theme. In the years since Laird and McRory have continued to perform them in Ireland and also in the locations in France and Belgium that inspired them.
These provided the source for his first two songs today, Starrett’s “Soldier” and the jointly written “John Condon”. The latter, written for a fourteen year old boy from Waterford killed on the battlefields of Flanders was subsequently covered by Fairport Convention.
Away from the WWI material Laird performed the traditional Irish songs “The Maid Of Culmore” and “The Shores of the Swilley”, the latter covered by Sinead O’ Connor.
A particularly well received set concluded with a cover of Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes” with Laird, encouraged by Farmer and Angell, leading the audience in a sing along as the trio put their own stamp on Lou Reed at his most bitter-sweet.
This was arguably the pick of the Hexagon performances, the intimacy of the venue suiting the subdued power of Laird’s delivery perfectly. He’s definitely an artist I’d like to hear more of , as Sid had suggested (no Cds for sale unfortunately). And hats off to Angell and Farmer for their contributions to the success of this performance.
KADIALY KOUYATE BAND, MAIN THEATRE
The next ticketed event in the Main Theatre was a performance by the Senegalese kora player, vocalist and songwriter Kadialy Kouyate and his band.
Born into a line of griots Kouyate is now based in London and has toured widely around the UK. He teaches the kora at SOAS as well as pursuing a productive career as a performing musician. Besides leading his own projects he has also recorded with the London based Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale.
Kouyate has previously appeared at the mac as a solo performer but today saw him fronting a full band featuring djembe, drum kit, electric guitar and electric six string bass. It was difficult to pick up the names of the individuals concerned but online research suggests that three of them were almost certainly Giuliano Osella (drums) Momodou Konte (djembe) and Amadou Ndir (electric bass). I believe it may have been the Scottish musician Graeme Stephen on guitar.
In any event the quintet proved to be a highly rhythmic ensemble that played with the focus, energy and volume of a rock band. The fiery interaction between Kouyate and Konte was particularly impressive as was the interplay between the three stringed instruments with their interlocking melodic and rhythmic lines.
This was an exciting, high energy performance and although the focus was very much on the playing and singing of the charismatic Kouyate there were plenty of excellent solos from the rest of the ensemble. Stephen proved to be a master of the classic ‘West African’ guitar sound while Konte, who also played other small percussive devices, specialised on the djembe, or talking drum, and proved himself to be a true virtuoso of the instrument. In conjunction with Osella and Ndir Konte helped to give the music a phenomenal rhythmic drive, while also demonstrating remarkable levels of power, energy and skill in his features on the djembe, bouncing ideas off his leader in a series of dazzling exchanges.
Through his songs Kouyate preached the virtues of tolerance and freedom whilst also expressing his pride in his Griot ancestry and of his love and respect for that tradition.
The audience responded positively to these messages, the power of the music and the rhythms transcending any language barriers. Encouraged by Konte the final number saw the audience clapping along happily with the band.
This was an impressive performance from Kouyate and his band with all of the musicians performing with skill and verve, and none more so than the leader himself, a striking figure centre stage with his white painted kora.
The decision to present Kouyate with a full on band was more than justified. One could imagine these guys also going down a storm at WOMAD.
IRYNA MUHA & RICHARD SCOTT, THE HEXAGON
Over in the Hexagon I enjoyed a performance by the Ukrainian born vocalist, instrumentalist and songwriter Iryna Muha who performed in a duo with the British musician Richard Scott.
It was Peacock’s idea to pair the two together and their set was a fascinating amalgam of Ukrainian, Russian and British folk influences.
Their performance was already under way when I arrived from the Main Theatre with Muha singing a traditional Ukrainian folk song while accompanying herself on the hurdy gurdy while Scott provided additional support on acoustic guitar.
Muha’s own “River Trent” was written in the UK but with a Russian lyric celebrating the importance of water imagery in Russian and Ukrainian folklore.
Besides their collaborations the two musicians both performed individually, Scott playing a solo acoustic guitar piece dating from a time “when folk and classical music were not as divided as now”.
Muha demonstrated the mechanics of that fascinating instrument the hurdy gurdy before using it to accompany her singing of a Ukrainian folk song with an anti-war message.
Finally the two combined to play a Bulgarian bag pipe tune on hurdy gurdy and viol, the resultant drones proving to be totally absorbing and mesmeric, the effect not totally dissimilar to modern electronic dance music. I dubbed it ‘retro-techno’ and was also reminded of the drone of John Cale’s viola in the Velvet Underground, a neat link to the previous performance in the Hexagon and Richard Laird’s rendition of “Pale Blue Eyes”.
I was impressed by this performance from two very talented multi-instrumentalists and also by the power and purity of Muha’s singing. Whether the pair will work together as a duo again remains to be seen but I’d say that there was the potential here for a successful partnership.
SIMON PETER KING ORGAN TRIO, mac FOYER
On now to another brilliant multi-instrumentalist. Shropshire based Simon King is equally proficient on guitar and drums and I’ve seen perform many times on both instruments – although never at the same gig.
Today King was wearing his guitarist’s (woolly) hat and leading an organ trio featuring Matt Ratcliffe on keys and Jim Bashford at the drums.
Events had also been taking place in the even smaller performance space of The Hub but there was no way the King trio would squeeze into there so they set up in the foyer. I enjoyed a quick coffee and a sandwich in the café within earshot of the trio before taking to my feet to get a better view of the performance.
This was classic organ trio jazz with Ratcliffe playing a modern generation Hammond complete with two manuals, a pedal board and, of course, a Leslie cabinet. It was an impressive set up that delivered an equally impressive sound and I enjoyed watching the combination of Ratcliffe’s hands and feet as he delivered some marvellously fluent solos, simultaneously delivering bass lines via the pedals.
King was equally inventive with his guitar solos, combining agile single note runs with sophisticated chording. Behind the kit Bashford offered propulsive support to both soloists in a lively set that saw some of the mac’s youngest patrons dancing along excitedly.
Some of the adults must have been tempted too for this was classic, hard grooving Hammond jazz, steeped in gospel and drenched with the blues as Ratcliffe and King channelled the spirits of Jimmy Smith and Grant Green. In the year of the label’s 80th anniversary this was like an old Blue Note album brought to life, which is praise indeed.
I thoroughly enjoyed this swinging, unpretentious set and was hugely impressed by the dazzling playing of King and Ratcliffe as they traded consistently fiery and inventive solos, spurred on by the hard driving Bashford.
Just the thing to set you up for the main event and;
SURGE ORCHESTRA, MAIN THEATRE
Today marked the official release date of the latest Surge Orchestra recording “Valley Of Angels” but, rather surprisingly, the album material was totally ignored as Peacock led his ensemble through a series of performances with a distinctly Irish theme. “We’ve even got Irish weather” he joked, for Storm Hannah had made her progress across the UK during the day bringing heavy winds and rain. It was all a bit of a contrast to the first two Surge festivals which had both enjoyed glorious weather and brought crowds flocking to neighbouring Cannon Hill Park. Still, thanks to Hannah, it was much easier for both performers and audience members to find a car parking space this time.
Tonight’s show was part of the “When Traditions Meet” project, a PRS Foundation commission that formed part of their Beyond Borders strand. Further performances are scheduled in Ireland hosted by Culturlann and the North West Community Partnership. These will take place at Solstice Arts Centre, Navan on May 4th 2019 and The Derry Playhouse, Derry on May 5th 2019.
For tonight’s performance Peacock unveiled a slimmed down Surge Orchestra (twenty three musicians appear on the new album) but augmented the ranks of the regulars with four illustrious guests, Irish flute and whistle player Eimear McGeown, Ulster Scots bagpiper Darren Milligan, Congolese guitarist Niwel Tsimbu and Irish percussionist Eamonn Cagney.
The staging was spectacular with specially commissioned videos being screened behind the band as they played. Images of ship building and step dancing were shown as the band tore through the first two numbers, “Tipperary” and “Kiss The Maid” in thrilling fashion with swirling Celtic ceilidh melodies blending with big band jazz in a manner reminiscent of Salsa Celtica. McGeown’s whistles and the kilted Milligan’s pipes were particularly distinctive components and both musicians featured prominently as soloists, each impressing with their virtuosity. Typically inventive Peacock arrangements also introduced a hint of South African Township jazz and an element of wilful avant garde jazz dissonance. Also featuring strongly as a soloist was the impressive baritone saxophonist Alicia Gardner Trejo.
Peacock also works regularly in a duo format with his life partner, Surge violinist and occasional vocalist Ruth Angell. Working together under the banner Peacock Angell the duo’s music has more of a folk feel than Surge and their latest release is the EP “Songs Of The Shipyard”, six musical settings of the words of the Ulster poet Thomas Carnduff. The recording features Angell’s pure vocals plus her violin and acoustic guitar. Peacock features on guitar and vocals and the duo are augmented by the keyboards of Surge pianist Steve Tromans.
Two songs from this collection were featured this evening, arranged for large ensemble. “Banks of the Lagan” featured Peacock’s lead vocal and Angell’s wordless harmonies as water imagery was projected on the screen behind them.
Later on in the set we heard “Shipyard Fairy” in an arrangement by Angell, which Peacock dedicated to the memory of the late Alan James (1957-2019), former chairman of the English Folk Dance And Song Society and a performance and projects manager at the mac. Again arranged for additional instruments this featured Angell’s charming lead vocal.
Elsewhere we heard Tsibu’s “New Well”, the title a pun on his first name, which was introduced by McGeown’s flute and also included features for the composer on acoustic guitar and Tromans on piano.
“The Pedlar” commenced with a duet between Tsibu and percussionist Cagney. These two have worked together regularly for many years, notably in Cagney’s Convergence Ensemble, like Surge a cross-cultural musical project. Later violin and flute folk melodies were effectively combined with authentic big band swing with Gardner Trejo’s baritone again prominent in the arrangement.
Peacock described his piece “The Contemporary Craic” as “Henry Mancini meets Schoenberg”, which is a pretty fair summation of Surge as a whole. Peacock is a composer who has been influenced by such mavericks as Frank Zappa, Carla Bley and Django Bates, famously collaborating with the latter at a memorable gig in this very hall in 2011 that featured the Surge Orchestra with Bates as guest soloist.
“The Frustrated Octopus” merged music and poetry and was accompanied by appropriate and striking visual images of suitably tentacled creatures. Cagney’s percussion brought a Latin feel to the music and helped to fuel a blazing trumpet solo from Mike Adlington. Meanwhile Milligan’s pipes brought another dimension to a typically eclectic arrangement.
Peacock thanked a lengthy list of people who had helped with the Festival and also lamented the recent tragic passing of the murdered journalist Lara McKee. The band then played us out with a roaring instrumental, part of the “La Fête” album repertoire if I’m not mistaken, with solos coming from McGeown on flute and Mike Fletcher on alto sax.
So ended another typically exciting but thought provoking Surge performance. I’ve spoken before of the “controlled chaos” Peacock brings to Surge, but there’s a serious message of inclusivity behind the seemingly anarchic blurring of artistic and musical boundaries. To play Peacock’s blend of genre hopping music requires a high degree of skill from the players so hats off to tonight’s incarnation of the Surge Orchestra. I didn’t catch every single name and not everybody involved appears on the “Valley Of Angels” album but here’s the closest I can get to the full line up;
Sid Peacock – director, vocals, guitar
Ruth Angell- violin, vocals, guitar
Aria Trigas – violin
Anna ? - viola
Emma Capp – cello
Mike Adlington – trumpet
Richard Foote – trombone
Mike Fletcher – alto saxophone
Alicia Gardner Trejo – baritone saxophone
Unknown – electric bass
Tymek Jozwiak - drums
Eimear McGeown – flutes and whistles
Darren Milligan – highland bagpipes, whistles
Niwel Tsimbu – guitar, percussion
Eamonn Cagney – percussion
The dynamic, visually enhanced performance by Surge Orchestra in a sold out Main Theatre was undoubtedly the highlight of the day but the Festival of a whole consistently produced music that was both interesting and enjoyable.
Cutting across musical and geographical boundaries this was a truly international event but one that still had the twin entities of Birmingham and Ireland at its heart.
Besides the headliners I was particularly impressed by the performances of Richard Laird and of Kadialy Kouyate with his full band. The newly formed duo of Iryna Muha and Richard Scott worked particularly well and showed genuine long term potential. And I never fail to enjoy the Hammond fuelled grooves of Simon King’s organ trio.
There was also stuff I didn’t get to see including performances by the youth jazz aggregations of the Jazzlines Ensemble and the bands of the Birmingham Ormiston Academy, the latter co-led by the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year, saxophonist and Birmingham resident Xhosa Cole.
I’d have been keen to witness the music of Melinda Maxwell (from Trish Clowes’ Emulsion Ensemble) and Callum Armstrong whose performance in the Hexagon featured ancestral and modern reed instruments including Greek aulos, oboes and bagpipes and which was said to draw on folk, jazz and contemporary classical music. Unfortunately they were scheduled opposite the King organ trio and in this instance I decided to stick with what I already knew. That’s Festival life for you.
Congratulations to Sid Peacock and his team for another successful Surge In Spring, an event that is becoming an increasingly important part of Birmingham’s cultural calendar. His own show was a triumph and the other events were also consistently interesting and largely well attended, despite the inclement “Irish” weather.
Here’s to the fourth one.
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