Sid Peacock & Surge - Live in Birmingham 2004
[no label, 2005]

I think it was Frank Zappa who said "Jazz isn't dead. It just smells funny". Zappa was always saying weird stuff like that and you never were quite sure whether he was serious. However he had a point. Jazz has become too serious for its own good. I was watching Wynton Marsalis on TV the other day talking about the legacy of Jazz. Marsalis is an important jazz musician and scholar, but for God's sake! Throw a pie into that guy's face, will you? Jazz is not a sober academic affair. Listen to Armstrong, Ellington, Parker or any of the innovators. Jazz was a joyous event for them. Jazz was about passion, laughter, living in the moment. Even when it's densely orchestrated as in the case of Charles Mingus, Ellington and Zappa, it sings of spontaneity and passion. When Zappa and Miles Davis essentially created Jazz-Rock and Fusion in the 70s, they attempted to open Jazz to a new region of sounds and new ways to celebrate with music.

Unfortunately they were not totally successful. Commercial music companies and musicians alike were quick in learning how to homogenize Jazz-Rock for quick sells. Fusion became the new Muzak.. Artists like Spyro Gyra and Kenny G have as much to do with furthering Jazz as Madonna has to do with promoting celibacy. Fortunately, Davis and Zappa didn't fail either. There were enough creative musicians willing to take both Jazz and Rock to new places. John Zorn was one of them. His avant-garde style blended various musics into a virtual cornucopia of sounds, never staying still and always exploring. In order to do this he had to start his own label, Tzadik. In these days true jazz innovators never get far on a major label. Are there still adventurous Jazz musicians willing to buck the trend and take this lonely road?

The answer is yes. Sid Peacock is very much in the style of John Zorn and even Zappa. His music is clearly Jazz related but he draws from all sorts of styles never afraid to mix and match. You are never really sure where his compositions will take you, changing from jazz to rock to classic melodies to noise in moments. He peppers his music with socially minded spoken word, spurts of emotional improvisations, and humor...Lots of humor. But an arranger and composer needs an ensemble that understands and can adequately represent their vision. Peacock has Surge, an 11 piece orchestra that is clearly on the same wavelength.

Sid Peacock & Surge's new CD, Live In Birmingham was recorded in December of 2004 and has six tracks of high energy jazz. "Anarcho Zen Doubter" is fairly representative of Peacock's style and his band's mastery of the music. It starts with a manic but mainstream theme carried by flute and saxophone. The band weaves in and out of the melody until it breaks down into an chaotic race led by tenor saxist Ed Johnstone. The melody all but disappears and a almost classical motif by pianist Steve Troman appears punctuated by noise, squawks, and.. a jew-harp? A spoken narration by Peacock lends a sharp politically satiric note and then slides into a nice bluesy guitar solo by Frank Moon. Then just as quickly, it's back to the main theme and out. If this seems a lot for a 15 minutes recording it is. But it all moves effortlessly thanks to Peacock's direction.

Of the other tracks, "You Can't Buy Everything Forever" is a cute song ridiculing the modern consumerist culture and features some nice soloing by Johnstone on tenor and Mike Fletcher on Soprano sax. "Intergalactic Fly By" is a soaring jazz number with a finger curling improvisation by Troman and a Ray Anderson-like trombone outing from Simon Lesley. "Surge Psilocybin " is possibly the most avant-garde piece and presents more great improvisation with a chance for trumpeter Phil Cardwell to show his not insubstantial chops. "The Pedalers" feature Flautist Max Griffings and Violinist Ruth Angell blending a classical sound with Mingus influenced backing from the rest of the ensemble. Angell has one of the prettiest solos in the album and proves my conviction that the world needs more good Jazz violinists. The albums ends with "Wee Green Men", again exhibiting a masterful ability by the band to go from mainstream jazz to free playing and back. They even throw in a little Celtic jig for good measure! All of this is anchored by a rhythm section of bassist Ryan Trebilcock and Drummer Doug Hough that doesn't miss a beat in Peacock's ever changing soundscape;

While there is plenty of great solo improvisation, the album is primarily a triumph of virtuoso ensemble playing. Certainly Peacock's excellent arrangements and direction remain the real star of the show. His satiric but intense political narrations may put some people off but it also shows the passion that Peacock puts into his art. This is an album that keeps the listener wondering where it going to end up. In an age of mass produced cookie cutter music, that is cause for celebration and reason to highly recommend this CD.

Marvin P. Vernon

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Sid Peacock & Surge - Live in Birmingham 2004