The second Harmonic Festival is only days away, and that old “it’s gonna be a feast of jazz” cliche is, for once, not wide of the mark.
Food features strongly, not only in a Saturday evening performance by that band, but also in a free jazz session which will explore themes of taste (and that’s what things taste like rather than taste in its aesthetic sense). And you’ll be able to enjoy the music while grabbing a snack, not just in the more formal theatres.
Birmingham musicians Chris Mapp and Percy Pursglove mounted the first Harmonic Festival in the spring of 2010, mainly at the CBSO Centre, and it was a great success. Now they have changed season and venue – it’s mostly at MAC, in Birmingham’s Cannon Hill Park – with an impressively expanded programme.
This is a festival that feels young, fresh and fast moving. Any straw boater wearers looking for the trad sounds and real ale tent are likely to be disappointed. Chris and Percy don’t have any traditions to weigh them down, and they are sharp to the new technologies.
The two headline performances feature collaborations between British and Norwegian musicians, and they are surrounded by smaller gigs by younger bands, together with some really innovative events: free improvisation based on the tasty themes of spicy, sweet, sour and savoury, for example, or a jazz version of silent disco.
It all starts on Thursday with a launch party at The Yardbird. Providing the music and making sure we’re all going to be awake for the weekend to come, is Husk, led by trumpeter Sam Wooster. If you enjoy a keen sense of jazz anticipation and excitement, get along there. All you pay for is the beer.
On Friday there is everything you might wish of a festival: a workshop, a symposium, two theatre gigs and a free entry late night session.
The use of electronics is a big thing in current jazz and Harmonic acknowledges this. From 10.30 am in the MAC’s Foyle Studio electroacoustic wiz Pierre-Alexandre Tremblay will be showing how to meld improvising and live processing, using musicians from the Cobweb and Soundkitchen collectives. The workshop is free of charge.
One of the defining characteristics of British jazz in the 21st century is the jazz collective – a group of musicians in one city all helping each other by playing together, marketing as a whole, promoting gigs, etc.
Jazz collectives and their use of social media will be covered in the second annual Jazz And The Media symposium which takes place from 1pm also in the Foyle Studio. Guest speakers include the hardest-working jazz blogger in Britain and real gent, Sebastian Scotney of London Jazz (londonjazz.blogspot.com), and Birmingham-based musical technology expert Andrew Dubber.
And between 4.30pm and 7.30pm in the Hexagon Theatre, three jazz collectives are celebrated in one triple bill. From London’s Loop Collective there is Splice, which includes saxophonist Robin Fincker and drummer Dave Smith from Outhouse; from Manchester’s Efpi collective there is The 265 Quartet; and from Birmingham’s Cobweb Collective there is saxophonist Lluis Mather’s Noose.
Over at the Symphony Hall foyer, those Rush Hour Blues will be eased by the Miles Levin Quartet. It’s from 5.30pm and it’s free.
Headlining Friday in the MAC Theatre is the brilliant Norwegian trumpeter Arve Henriksen who will be collaborating for the first time with Birmingham-based soundscape artists Dreams Of Tall Buildings.
Henriksen is a mesmerising performer. I have heard him play solo in Lichfield Cathedral, with electronic collaborator Jan Bang at Cheltenham Jazz Festival and at the Wigmore Hall with Trio Medieval, and each time he has been truly inspiring.
If you can make it to only one thing, make it this one. But don’t just make it to one thing! There is so much on offer over the weekend.
Things kick off on Saturday at 12.30pm with the first of pianist Mike Hurley’s Tasting Notes. Joined by a range of players, including Shabaka Hutchings on saxophone and clarinet, and Gail Brand on trombone, he will be freely tickling those taste buds.
The saxophonist/flautist Mike Fletcher leads his Quartet in the MAC Theatre at 3.30pm, and this is also the venue for the duo of trumpeter/bassist Percy Pursglove and pianist Hans Koller. Called Percy Pursglove’s Enchanted Heart, it’s at 6pm.
The headline gig on Saturday night is Food, the duo of British saxophonist Iain Ballamy and Norwegian percussionist Thomas Stronen, and they are joined by Norwegian guitarist Bjorn Klakegg.
Using electronics and oodles of spontaneous creativity, Food is a fascinating band to experience in concert. Their performance a few years ago at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, though with a different guitarist, suggests this will be a real treat.
This one is in the MAC Theatre at 9pm and is supported by Birmingham Jazz.
Also on Saturday there will be a whole bunch of Birmingham bands playing for free in the MAC Café. There is a full list of who’s playing when on the Harmonic website.
Meanwhile in the Gallery intrepid pianist Steve Tromans will be attempting the near impossible: to play for 11 hours straight. He starts his marathon at 12 noon and you will be able to listen via a wireless headphone system, so you can explore the MAC while listening. Silent disco steps up a gear!
On Sunday it’s time for the home team, the Creative Composers Ensemble, who rehearse regularly at the MAC, to round off the festival with a free performance in the MAC Terrace Gallery from 1pm.
So, a beautifully constructed jazz festival, cohesive in both theme and geography. Find out more about these events and lots more at the elegant Harmonic Festival website – www.harmonicfestival.co.uk – and book via www.macarts.co.uk or on 0121 446 3232.