Out of the Shadows

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

The TRUMPETS shall sound! FANFARE 250 for the Fine City of Norwich

National Youth Jazz Orchestra
National Youth Jazz Orchestra
Norfolk & Norwich Festival opening weekend - FANFARE 250; James Batty, Cameron Biles-Liddell, Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade, Nneka Cummins, Misha Mullov-Abbado, Laurence Osborn, Alexander Paxton, Shruthi Rajasekar, Ayanna Witter-Johnson, Hermeto Pascoal; National Youth Jazz Orchestra, Jovino Santos Neto; Norwich
Reviewed: 13 May 2022 by Tony Cooper

The Norfolk & Norwich Festival opens with nine new Fanfares, a giant game of Dominoes and an evening collaboration between the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and Hermeto Pascoal

Over the course of the opening weekend of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival, 13 members of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) popped up in strategic locations round the fine city of Norwich to mark the festival’s 250th anniversary with a flourish of Fanfares written by a group of nine young and enterprising UK-based composers. Then in the evening the NYJO, directed by Jovino Santos Neto, were joined by Brazilian-born composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, Hermeto Pascoal at St Andrew's Hall. 

Interestingly, Fanfares enjoy a nice history as part of the old Norfolk & Norwich (Triennial) Festival, an initiative inaugurated in the early part of the 20th century by Sir Henry Wood, who held the position of artistic director of the ‘Triennial’ from 1908 to 1930. A good innings, for sure! Now the current artistic director of the festival, Daniel Brine, is reinstating the Fanfare event as part of the Festival 250. Good for him!

But I do recollect a Fanfare ‘revival’ to launch the 2014 festival when artists from the festival joined staff of corporate sponsor Abellio Greater Anglia (now National Express East Anglia) to perform a birthday cake candle-extinguishing Fanfare at Norwich Thorpe Station with William Galinsky (festival director) and Jonathan Denby (corporate affairs director of the railway company) in the thick of it blowing crazily to a short off-the-cuff piece of music appropriately entitled Blow! What else! Happily, Jonathan’s still in the thick of it today. Long may it continue!

But back to the present and this year a group of nine young and enterprising UK-based composers (the Chosen Nine) were commissioned by the festival to create a series of Fanfares to herald in this year’s event marking the festival’s glorious 250th anniversary while, at the same time, recapture some of the glory of yesteryear and past musical treats such as ‘Old Timber’ so dearly loved.

The festival’s young, bright and alert music programmer, James Hardie, set the Chosen Nine - James Batty, Cameron Biles-Liddell, Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade, Nneka Cummins, Misha Mullov-Abbado, Laurence Osborn, Alexander Paxton, Shruthi Rajasekar, Ayanna Witter-Johnson - a time limit of 60 seconds for their respective pieces. And their inspiration for writing them ranged from Indian-influenced music to music inspired by prehistoric Norfolk not forgetting, of course, the jazz idiom and other such musical forms.

Performed by a group of 13 selected members of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, the spirited ‘Fanfarers’ comprised Ruby Barber, Ucheena Cohen-Shah, Gareth Howell, Ewan Parkin (trumpets); Connor Martin, Jessica Bull Anderson (trombones); Sam Taber (bass trombone/tuba); David Sztankov (French horn); Coren Sithers, George Garford (saxophones); Matthew Holmes (percussion); Chloe Dickens (violin); Mischa Jardine (cello).

The Fanfares certainly caused a bit of a stir in the city with passers-by amused by the goings-on around them. I caught one of the ‘first’ Fanfare blasts in the shadow of St Andrew’s Hall (the ‘home’ of the festival since its inception in 1772) appropriately on the opening day, too - Friday 13 May. Lucky for some! Lucky for Norwich!

However, as a curtain-raiser to the opening night concert with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, Station House Opera presented their large moving sculpture trail Dominoes putting Norwich firmly en fête in a street attraction that the city has never experienced before. Comprising 7500 grey-coated aerated concrete blocks, supplied by locally based Norwich company, Longwater Construction, the line of dominoes traversed the city covering a route of 2.2km. Although they took the best part of the day to assemble, they were toppled within a relatively short period of time - 25 minutes. Blow me down!

Crowds gathered at The Halls, Norwich for Dominoes (Photo: Kate Wolstenholme, from Norwich Evening News)
  Crowds gathered at The Halls, Norwich for Dominoes
(Photo: Kate Wolstenholme, from Norwich Evening News)

The trail started at Anglia Square (Magdalen Street) and finished at The Forum (city centre) with three large domino-tower structures erected at both ends of the trail with another at St Andrew’s (Hall) Plain in the middle. And as part of their long and adventurous journey the ‘line’ also went ‘indoors’, for instance, through the bar/restaurant area of Norwich’s arts cinema, Cinema City, as well as through the nave of the 15th-century church of St Peter Mancroft, a stone’s-throw away from the finishing line.

Adding to the overall fun, a lot of street activity ensued with hordes of spectators taking shortcuts to get to other sites along the route to follow (and enjoy) a bit of extra toppling. Literally, thousands of citizens turned out for this unique festival event which brought so many people together from so many backgrounds to enjoy a great civic occasion.

From the musical aspect of the event, I think one could cite the rhythm and pace of hearing hundreds of over-excited voices on the streets buzzing with excitement waiting for their moment. A chorus in waiting, I suppose! And when their moment came, they shouted singing as loud as they could the praises of the domino trail. And as the blocks tumbled, in strict regimental order, there was further musical merit by the sound of them being knocked over at regular intervals mirroring, I felt, the audible click of a metronome.

It was truly a community event all round and certainly announced that the Norfolk & Norwich Festival was up and running and riding in top gear to Sunday 29 May when Vaughan Williams’ Five Tudor Portraits (a N&N Triennial Festival commission for the 1936 meeting) will be the main work in the Britten Sinfonia’s concert in St Andrew’s Hall featuring the Norwich Philharmonic Chorus.

In the evening the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, directed with Latin-style gusto by Jovino Santos Neto, stamped their credentials loud and clear on the festival’s 250th by letting rip in St Andrew’s Hall in a dynamic and thrilling concert featuring special guest star, Brazilian-born composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, Hermeto Pascoal, a significant figure in the history of Brazilian music and mainly known for his prowess in orchestration and improvisation.

He’s good! Miles Davis said so! That must be right! He claimed Hermeto to be ‘the most impressive musician in the world’. I think that the packed house at St Andrew’s Hall would wholly agree with him. However, Hermeto, it seems, was a musician going places at a young age. And it’s now just over half a century ago when he caught international attention by his appearance on Miles Davis’ 1971 album Live-Evil featuring a trio of numbers he wrote. From the late 1970s to this day Hermeto has mostly led his own groups playing at many prestigious festivals ranging from Montreux in 1979 to Norwich in 2022.

Now aged 86, Hermeto (known as ‘O Bruxo’, the sorcerer) performed alongside members of his equally amazing quintet comprising André Marques (piano, flute, percussion), Jota P (saxophones, flutes), Fábio Pascoal, Hermeto’s son (percussion), Itiberê Zwarg (electric bass, percussion) and Ajurinã Zwarg (drums, percussion) while the National Youth Jazz Orchestra players (many recruited from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and Guildhall School of Music and Dance) comprised a formidable bunch of richly-talented performers, namely, George Garford, Asha Parkinson (alto saxophones); Emma Rawicz-Szczerbo, Joe Pickering (tenor saxophones); Luke Chakrabarti (baritone saxophone); Rianna Henriques (flute); Ewan Parkin, Gareth Howell, Ruby Barber, Dan Coulthurst, Ucheena Cohen-Shah (trumpets); Joel Knee, Felix Fardell, Connor Martin, Jessica Anderson (trombones); Sam Taber (bass trombone); Robyn Blair (French horn); Harrison Dolphin (guitar); Andrew Chen (piano); Fergus Quill (bass); Dan Kimberley (percussion) and Matt Holmes (drums).

A self-taught musician, Hermeto (a jazz superstar extraordinaire!) honed his ear for unusual tones in his grandfather’s blacksmith workshop hearing music as a vital force that rings forth organically from everything on earth. He is as likely to produce a piece for a kitchen utensil as to improvise solos on keyboard or flute. A master in transforming everyday objects into extraordinary instruments, he utilises such items as squeaky toys, old tea pots and, maybe, his trusty accordion to good effect.

Well, we did not get the piano accordion, an instrument I greatly favour, but he did justice to his odd array of instruments by blowing into what seemed a horn-like makeshift instrument and getting a good and accurate sound from it too. But mainly he was seen standing at an electric piano (or sitting by it) directing the overall musical forces highlighting his inimitable style of free-form jazz to good effect.

It was a great moment when he arrived on the revered stage of St Andrew’s Hall, greeted by wild applause. He looked the part of a jazz messenger from head to toe sporting a traditional Brazilian rim hat, a flowing white beard and a good crop of matching white hair tied in a ponytail whilst wearing a very loose-fitting, loud-patterned, coloured open-neck shirt crying out ‘it’s now carnival time in Norwich’. And it was!

The partnership between the Brazilians and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra galvanised quickly with NYJO performing carnival-inspired numbers penned by Hermeto without a care in the world. A well-drilled band, they were at ease with his writing and that came over loud and clear right from the start. Literally, they only had a couple of days rehearsal with Jovino Santos Neto to get it right.

They certainly got it right on the night getting to grips with the erratic rhythms and nuances of Hermeto’s distinctive and varied writing. Interestingly, the band didn’t play any of the play-list that Hermeto originally planned. Unpredictable to a degree, I suppose, he chooses the running order to fit the frame of his mood as well as the feel and reaction of the audience as the show progresses. That sounds about right for a Latin-based jazzman! As an educationist (Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts and Jazz Camp West) Jovino proved the ideal person to get NYJO up to performance level for this concert which was previously heard at London’s Barbican Centre.

Amusingly, the last bar of the evening was played out in the hall’s bar area following the band marching off-stage bringing this wonderful and invigorating gig to a blazing and satisfying end. A few quick off the mark followed in the band’s wake hoping for more. In fact, everyone wanted more, of course, but I think Hermeto, by this time, just wanted bed! They had already overrun the gig by about 30-40 minutes and, surely, that’s a bonus in itself!

Perhaps, the band missed a trick by not parading round the cloistered surroundings of the medieval-built St Andrew’s Hall much in the same way that the famous American soprano sax player, Sidney Bechet, opted for when he stormed the venue in the 1960s playing with André Reveliotty’s traditional jazz-band with members of the audience following in a carnival-like procession! A great jazz concert, it still lingers in my memory. I think I can safely say that Hermeto’s gig is tucked away there, too. Bravo!

When in 2019, Hermeto released his album (Hermeto Pascoal e Sua Visão Original do Forró) it duly won the Latin Grammy Award for the Best Portuguese Language Roots Album. After hearing him in Norwich, I can clearly see why.  Boom! Boom!












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