Sun Ra is the inspiration for the final performance of this weekend’s Legends Festival, and receiving – and passing on – the inspiration will be Sid Peacock’s jazz orchestra Surge.
A key player in Surge is pianist Steve Tromans and it was through him that the idea for this concert was germinated.
“Birmingham Jazz approached me earlier this year with an idea to stage a tribute to the music of Sun Ra with an ensemble of Birmingham-based players for the 2016 JQ Jazz Legends Festival. My immediate thought was the Surge Orchestra,” Steve told me. “No need to form a new ensemble when the perfect one for the task is already up and running, with an established fan-base and a track record of delivering the contemporary jazz/improv goods over a good number of years now.”
So when did Steve first feel the vibe from Saturn?
“I first heard Sun Ra’s music on the album The Nubians of Plutonia back when I was a college student. What struck me the most was the amazing juxtapositions of far-out free stuff and in-the-groove swing material. I’d never heard anything quite like it before, and it predated Zorn’s Naked City jump-cuts by decades, of course.”
So, what is the plan for the Surge performance on Sunday?
“In terms of the event for the Legends Festival, since the Arkestra is still happily in existence out there and gigging, there didn’t seem to be any point in trying to turn ourselves into a tribute act to Sun Ra. Instead, the term ‘homage’ came to mind, as a public show of respect for a true jazz legend. In discussion with Birmingham Jazz, we proposed a set list featuring Ra material in special arrangement, extant pieces from the Surge repertoire, and two new pieces commissioned by the festival to be written by Sid and me. This is the first time another composer other than Sid has written for the orchestra, so it’s a great honour.”
What had Steve written for the band?
“My own piece for the event is composed around a series of fragments of Ra’s own words and notes – transposed from their original contexts and placed in resonance with each other on the page. It will enable each member of the orchestra to put their skills in collective improvisation to good use. The piece is entitled Magic Was My Name, with two sub-sections called Springtime On Saturn and Twenty-two Skidoo, and moves between full orchestra and quintet and sextets of duos and trios.
“To answer an ongoing question from more than one interested party: to the best of my knowledge, we’re not going to be wearing space-age garb for the gig! It’s a homage not a tribute, after all. More “Surge re-imagines…” than “Stars in their eyes” – thankfully!”
Sid Peacock said:
“I’m really happy to be doing the gig and Sun Ra has always been a massive influence on Surge. He is often one of the main comparisons drawn by reviewers. Sun Ra’s music spans many styles and he is one of the major innovators of the 20th Century. I am also very pleased that Steve is the first composer other than myself to compose for Surge. I am planning for there to be many more opportunities for other composers to work with Surge in future.”
- Surge re-imagines Sun Ra at 8pm on Sunday at University College Birmingham’s McIntyre House in Charlotte Street in the Jewellery Quarter. More HERE.