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Archived concerts

Peter King and the Global Arts Emsemble at Belfast Festival

Elmwood Hall, Belfast
20:00, 19 October 2011

Elmwood Avenue, Belfast, Northern Ireland
004402890 971197
Visit website
£17.50, £15

Peter King, Alto Saxophone
Jim Watson, Piano
Jeremy Brown, Bass
Stephen Keogh, Drums
Darragh Morgan, Violin 1
Marcus Barham Stevens, Violin 2
Gustav Clarkson, Viola
Gabriella Swallow, Cello

A concert dedicated to one of the UK's greatest living musicians and one of the finest saxophone players in the world. 

Peter King is also a prolific composer and arranger, working in both the jazz and classical fields. During this unique concert the audience will have a rare opportunity to hear some of his works for strings and jazz quartet in a variety of formats.

Programme Content

Janus - The main piece on this concert is a work commissioned by the BBC, for Jazz Quartet and String Quartet. It is a bold and innovative work which combines both the Jazz and Classical forms. This piece was performed at the South Bank as part of London Jazz Festival in 1997 and in June 2011 at Pizza Express Jazz Club, London where it was received with great critical acclaim. Read Peter's account of composing Janus (taken from his autobiography, Flying High) from its commissioning by the BBC through to its tour of performances in Britain and Spain. *Please see section below titled: Peter King recounts composing Janus in his memoir Flying High

Other pieces on the programme will include:

-The Passions - "Lust" and "Love" 2 pieces from Kings suite for jazz quartet and string quartet.

-String Quartet - 1 movement

-Naima - from works written for Peter King with Strings

-Ronnie's Sorrow - a piece dedicated to Ronnie Scott which is an adaptation of Bartok's
"Sorrow", written for 2 violins.

Peter King recounts composing Janus in his memoir Flying High

Neil [Ferber] liked the idea [of writing works for a string quartet]. . . not long after, Neil called me to say we had the go-ahead to fulfil both commissions. For the larger work, the BBC required up to an hour of music. I wanted to make use of what I had learned, studying all those Bartók string quartets. It seemed a good idea but when I actually had to write the damned thing, it hit home what a huge challenge I had taken on. Neil got the Lyric String Quartet, a fine, established group, interested in playing the suite.
I had begun to use an Atari computer whilst writing string arrangements for Charlie Watts, so I could hear the music I was writing . . . a whole new world opened up. It was especially helpful when writing contrapuntal passages and there would be plenty of these in the new commission, which I decided would be in five movements. After it was completed I called it Janus, after the Roman god with two faces. I figured it was an appropriate name as I was looking in two directions, one toward the classical world and the other towards jazz.
After years of searching for a way to integrate some of Bartók's techniques into jazz, I now had to solve the problems and damned quick. I wanted to avoid making compromises, so that the string quartet could do their own thing and my quartet could play jazz the way it always does. Using a classical quartet in this way was challenging, especially because I particularly wanted to avoid any hint of pretentiousness. Fortunately, Bartók's music is full of jazz-like qualities, rich modern harmonies, rhythmic drive, and 'soul'. John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner were obviously influenced by him, particularly by his harmonies, and I felt I could tap into these elements and make them work in a jazz context.
I treated the two [classical and jazz] quartets as separate entities for much of the time, hoping this would not only allow each of them to feel comfortable but also create a tense dialogue between them. Throughout most of the work I had the strings develop each new musical motif first; then I would turn that motif into a jazz tune, so my quartet could improvise on it. I tried to bring both quartets together gradually as one unified force during the course of the suite. To pull this off I felt there had to be a tight structural cohesion, so I made use of a typically Bartókian architectural device, the arch form. One of the most rigorous examples of arch form is Bartók's fourth string quartet, from which much of the inspiration for Janus was drawn. In this work, movements one, two, four and five are derived from the same thematic material. They are like the outer supporting stones of the arch and the central keystone is the middle, third, movement, which has new material, a harmonic form of the original motif. In fact, the entire Bartók quartet is derived from one six-note chromatic motif, continually transformed and developed. The result is one of the most concentrated, rigorously logical and profound works in the whole of music.
To attempt this degree of architectural rigour in a jazz work would be fruitless, so I just used a basic five-moment form, with a central slow movement forming a kind of calm centre around which the other movements are grouped. The tune in the slow section is similar in general shape to Bartók's slow third movement melody but, unlike Bartók's, my slow movement incorporates a further mini-arch form within itself. For the centre of this arch I write a fast strings passage, loosely modelled on the brilliant and virtuosic second movement of the fourth quartet. In Janus it becomes a kind of separate storm in the eye of the main storm. Although I spent a lot of time organising the overall musical structure of Janus, my main concern was still to let the music flow naturally and, above all, to swing.

Peter King and the Global Arts Ensemble - review
Pizza Express Soho, London

John Fordham, Guardian Thursday 16 June 2011

King opened with his eloquently personal mix of Parkeresque bebop, post-Coltrane modalism, and Béla Bartók-inspired writing for the Global Arts string quartet, also in attendance. Early on, King set shapely, wraith-like lines floating over the porous harmonies and eerily whispering, conspiratorial lines of the quartet, revealing the lyrical urge to phrase outside the box that has long balanced the bluesy fire in his work.

Pianist Mike Gorman then surged through a tribute to late piano hero Hank Jones over Jeremy Brown's responsive bassline and Stephen Keogh's brushwork, while King's lamenting, Coltranesque Ronnie's Sorrow was played off the back of Béla Bartók's shimmering Sorrow duet for the violinists. The rapturous mood was sustained in Coltrane's classic ballad Naima, against the theme-mirroring swoops of the strings.

The second set was a performance of King's 1997 Janus suite, an exercise in Bartók's favourite arch-form. Janus has its obvious moments, particularly in the early riffs for the strings, but the swing and classical elements danced more gracefully together than on the original album. King's yearning high sounds amid the encircling strings and Brown's countermelodies made for an entrancing middle section. It brought cheers from the crowd on this triumphant night for a British jazz legend.

CD Review
"The affinity between Bartok's visceral, folk dance-inspired music and the steaming sweat of first-generation bop is a close one, and the concert produced some extraordinary playing by King and his band (most notably pianist Gordon Beck and drummer Stephen Keogh). Like his mentor, King's with-strings soloing makes no concessions to the classical tradition, but the Bartokian architecture and harmonies stimulate him to play with unflagging fire and invention." Chris May All About Jazz

Peter King and the Global Arts Emsemble at Belfast Festival