Words and Pictures by John Watson
University College Birmingham McIntyre House, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham UK
The 2016 JQ Jazz Legends Festival wrapped up with some sublimely lovely singing… followed by an astonishing musical thunderstorm.
The storm came from the 22-piece Surge Orchestra led by Sid Peacock. I could offer a one-word review: Awesome. ‘Nuff said?
No, I should really offer more detail. Peacock was commissioned by festival organisers Birmingham Jazz to create a salute to the pioneering work of Sun Ra and his Arkestra (on Sun Ra’s birthday), and the brief was filled beyond expectations. As Sid told the audience, his own compositions for the orchestra have often been compared to Sun Ra, quite a compliment as the Arkestra was ground-breaking in so many ways (for example, Ra’s tenor saxophone star John Gilmore was a massive influence on a young John Coltrane).
The sheer energy at the core of Peacock’s music certainly compares to the Arkestra’s own raw forces, and in this concert at the UCB McIntyre Building the power of the performance was immense. There are melodic elements, too, as in Peacock’s Hallucinogenic Garden (which he declared to be a warning against the hidden menaces in the apparently harmless pastime of gardening), but glorious forcefulness in pieces like Bronze Bling (it’s partly based on harmonic thirds… bronze… geddit?)
There are too many gifted soloists in this large ensemble to list, but I must make mention of the key roles of Steve Tromans (literally all over the piano at times, on the keys and in the strings simultaneously) and the outstanding percussion section of Mark Sanders, Tymotensz Jozwiak, Jason Huxtable (on a massive bass marimba) and Alpha Elema.
Earlier, Juliet Kelly delighted a rather small crowd of fans with a thoughtfully programmed and smoothly-delivered selection of mainly standard songs made famous by great voices, opening with I Put A Spell On You, followed by S’Wonderful, April In Paris, All Of Me, and Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye. “Ella Fitzgerald always sounded to me like she was smiling when she was singing,” Juliet told the audience. The same could be said of Juliet, too.
Irish singer Aisling Iris followed with a superb new collaboration with saxophonist Tony Kofi, in the festival’s second celebration of the music of Thelonious Monk.
Iris’s voice was a revelation: her control over the whole range is immaculate, her expression powerful, and her feel for the essential elements of Monk’s music quite extraordinary. Well, You Needn’t was delivered in sharply snappy style, and there was real sparkle to Monk classics including Rhythm A Ning, Ruby My Dear, I Mean You, and Ask Me Now.
Aisling told me later that she learned the lyrics from the works of the great American singer Jon Hendricks, and until recently she knew relatively little about the creations of Thelonious Monk. That makes her achievement all the more astonishing: she is a natural, and she deserves wide recognition.
Categories: Live review