INTERVIEW: Newcastle Festival of Jazz & Improvised Music | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: RUN LOGAN RUN by Chris Lucas

The jazz genre is renowned for its sonic innovation and nowhere is this better demonstrated than by local record label and promoters New Jazz & Improvised Music Recordings, who this month present their annual festival of wild sounds and aural exploration.

Taking place at various venues across Newcastle from Thursday 30th September-Sunday 3rd October, the Newcastle Festival of Jazz & Improvised Music features a typically varied line-up which impressively fuses genre and artistic medium. Wesley Stephenson, label boss and all-round driving force, explains how he chose the artists involved in this year’s event. “I’m interested in high quality, whatever form that takes, and creating a programme that balances the firmly established alongside new artists. I like weaving webs and also like to look beyond the music, this year we have the Silent Music: Seeing Sound graphic scores exhibition for instance.” The exhibition at Newcastle Arts Centre is launched on Saturday 25th September and will run for two weeks, displaying original prints made by visual artist Jo Ganter with composer Raymond McDonald. The launch will also see a performance from brand new collective Spinningwork, who were put together during lockdown.

We’ve really tried to capture the spirit of the UK scene this year, both musically and geographically, from Glasgow down to Hastings. I’m particularly excited about the Pat Thomas plays Duke Ellington set [Lit & Phil, Saturday 2nd October], he really tears into the compositions, and it’s a perfectly poised double bill with Alina Bzhezhinska and her super mellow HipHarp Quartet.

Jazz is a restless art form, it has always carried a sense of urgency and modernity, improvisation and responsive change

Also of note are performances from festival stalwart John Pope – both with his quintet at The Lit & Phil on Saturday 2nd October, and ‘In Conversation’ with Huw V Williams, host of the celebrated Improvised Music Agenda podcast at The Globe on Sunday 3rd October (with a performance afterwards); audiences can expect an explosive performance from Run Logan Run, whose collision of tribal drums and guttural saxophone combine in a fusion of polyrhythmic sounds, as they support post-rock/jazz/electronic fusion band Shiver at their album launch at Gosforth Civic Theatre on Thursday 30th September; Newcastle’s alt. cellist and experimenter of sounds Ceitidh Mac will perform at The Lit & Phil on Friday 1st October in support of dynamic trio Warmer Than Blood; and ‘nu-fusion’ Liverpudlians Green Tangerines bring the weekend vibes on Saturday 2nd October at The Globe, preceding the launch of a new monthly club night, On The Corner, an event Wesley is particularly excited about.

Wesley is emphatic about the importance of collaboration, praising venues and promoters who keep the scene turning throughout the year, and it’s clear that he takes influence and inspiration from the spirit of the genre itself. “Jazz is a restless art form, it has always carried a sense of urgency and modernity, improvisation and responsive change. The origins of the music are a gumbo of class, culture and locale which exploded in tandem with the industrial revolution, and a period of time when modern art went through a unique process of liberation. That’s how we can understand it in a contemporary context, but the true origins run way further back into historic folk music. My point is, however, that the music has maintained a commitment to that experimentation and responsive change, it remains a perpetually contemporary art form.”

Newcastle Festival of Jazz & Improvised Music takes place at various venues from Thursday 30th September to Sunday 3rd October

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