Archive for the ‘music’ Category

SUBVERSION: Politics, Magic and Jazz



This week has seen a fascinating array of my own public engagement. My week began with my lecture on Race, Rights and Justice in the Age of Brexit for the national Being Human Fetsival. Held in the fabulous Galleries of Justice in Notttingham, I set out my thoughts and reflections on the many challenges during the age of what I have called BREXITRUMP. My remarks urged us all to remain mindful of our common humanity and the shared values of dignity, respect, non-discrimination, equality, and inclusion.

The current turn in politics is undermining years of struggle for rights and justice, the legal codification of these struggles, and the many advances that have been achieved in the popular understandings of identity and difference. The rhetoric of Farage and Trump shares many of the same features: a simplification and dichotomisation of society into ‘us’ and ‘them’ in ways that have proved highly divisive, hurtful, and regressive. It has also invited arguments online and offline that appear more vitriolic than ever before.

With these developments at the forefront of our minds, the staging this week of my show SUBVERSION seemed more fitting than first imagined when I conceived of it. The show celebrates the common thread that joins the disparate worlds of politics, magic and jazz; worlds that have been my world since the early 1970s. Each in their own way has moments that have challenged the status quo and moved history forward. I explore these connections through the medium of performance magic, mind reading, and mentalism. Our topics have covered the ideas and achievements of over 50 of my favourite ‘subversives’; our understanding of the notion of free will; Hobbesian thought as expressed in Leviathan; the philosophy and art of surrealism; Said’s notion of Orientalism; the ‘veil of ignorance’; the value of predictions; and my own blend of psychic perfect pitch.


The show has been well received and well-reviewed, while the proceeds are being used for the Life Cycle Campaign to raise funds for research into the early detection of breast cancer, something that has touched my family and I am certain many other families here and abroad. The Djanogly Theatre at Lakeside Arts provided the perfect setting, while the sound and light crew could not be more professional and supportive.

In the middle of this performance schedule, I had the honour and pleasure of performing to a group of students from the University of Nottingham for a new film project on Academic Magic. They were from all over the world and studying degree courses in chemistry, maths, biology, business, law, finance, psychology, and medicine. After the filming they were full of questions and theories about how I managed to know what they had chosen, thought, or wrote down. It was a wonderful afternoon with the youth of today.

2016 has indeed been an extraordinary year with the death of so many icons of my youth, and significant political developments that will have huge and long lasting consequences. All eyes are on the election in France with the surge in support for Marine Le Pen, the election in Germany, as Angela Merkel seeks an historic 4th term as Chancellor, and in the UK, the Government’s plan for Brexit; the phasing, contours and consequences of which still remain shrouded in uncertainty.

I for one, will remain vigilant, continue to engage, and work hard to defend what I think are the many important principles and rights that have been secured through so many years of struggle.

Monumental Music

This holiday season I have had some time to listen to new music and I have been particularly impressed with two new offerings from 2015: Kamasi Washington’s The Epic and Brad Mehldau’s 10 Years Solo Live. These are both monumental offerings, showing total commitment to the art form and total immersion into the depths of modern music.

Just before Christmas, I had a long drive from Ipswich to Sheffield and decided to listen to all of The Epic, which is 174 minutes long. This album is a most welcome addition to my collection and returns the art form to its days of most impact. Kamasi Washington has assembled a great line up of instruments, including trumpet, trombone, sax, rhythm section typical of modern jazz ensembles, but he adds an additional drummer, additional bass player, additional piano player, strings, and a choir, as well as lead singer. This is an Ellington-esque line up and conjures up references Charles Mingus and Dave Holland (who I was honoured to see at a concert in Coimbra, Portugal few years ago).

He also uses a ‘saloon’ piano, which gives many of the songs a honky tonk flavour. Many songs also include a Hammond organ, which sounds haunting at points and wonderful in others. There are moments in the album when you are confronted with a wall of sound with so many textures and layers to the music that carry you away into the deep history of jazz, its origins in oppression and its evolution throughout the 20th century. This history is brought to high relief with the inclusion of spoken word directed at the politics of race relations in the US evocative of Gil Scott heron.

The songs bring surprise, atmosphere, emotion, and grit to the listening experience, and there are reminders of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Robin Eubanks, Carla Bley, Henri Texier, and many others. The whole album is worth listening to all the way through in one sitting. This is a concept and story in three parts. Once you reach the end, you will be truly transformed and elevated by what you hear. It is rich, moving, meaningful and simply breath taking.

My wife gave me the new Brad Mehldau collection of solo piano, recorded live and consisting of four CDs. I have been a fan for a number of years now, and always liked his ability to take a pop song like Radiohead’s Exit Music for a Film and then deconstruct it into a jazz recording and an adept sense of melody, harmony, and rhythm. This new offering does not disappoint. For example, he covers Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit in ways that are so imaginative. More traditionally, he has the audacity to cover My Favourite Things (the 26 minute Coltrane rendition from his Live at Montreux recording has been the version for so many years), where he succeeds in showing there is life in the song beyond Coltrane. He deconstructs, flips, subverts and toys with the harmony, melody and tempo in so many different ways and with such passion that you get lost in its utter brilliance.

These two recordings are simply monumental in their musical majesty and there celebration of all that is good about music, particularly jazz, which provides structure within which so much variety is made possible. Playing with and challenging that structure, while invoking the history of an art from that has always sought to subvert makes these absolutely essential to any serious jazz fan’s collection.

Listen, take the journey, and lose yourself.

I did.