CD REVIEW: Surge Orchestra – Valley of Angels


Surge Orchestra Valley of Angels
(Surge 03. CD Review by Peter Jones)

There’s often a great deal of fun to had from listening to a large jazz ensemble inspired by some off-kilter genius. One is reminded, as always, of Sun Ra’s Arkestra, or of Mak Murtic’s hallucinogenic Mimika Orchestra. Another contender is Birmingham’s Surge Orchestra, brainchild of Ulster-born Sid Peacock. A leading light in many Midlands-based music education organizations, Peacock is the group’s composer and producer. Surge, as you will have guessed, is an acronym for Sidist Utopian Revolutionary Groove Ensemble.

Surge was established in 2013 and has become an intercultural orchestra, performing with the likes of Django Bates, John Mayer’s Indo Jazz Fusion, Congolese vocalist Didier Kisala with English folk string quartet The Froe and Palestinian clarinettist Mohamed Najem. (Future plans include a collaboration with Chongqing Sichuan Opera.)

The Surge sound is distinctive. As well as the usual components of a jazz big band, their line-up includes a number of string players. Generally speaking, Surge are funky. And at different times, various disparate styles are grafted on to this basic groove – one minute they’re in full Irish ceilidh mode, the next they’re rampaging along in madcap Zappa-esque style, and then there might be a bit of rapping or storytelling. Sit the Vampire in the Sun, for example, sets up a lumpy James Brown vibe, with a rapping vocal by Juice Aleem. It funks along very pleasantly, with a nice wordless soaring vocal by Ruth Angell halfway through.

The title track kicks off with a swirl of traditional Irish strings and pipes and features more spoken word, as Peacock retells the story of St Patrick. Lovely drone strings introduce Molly’s Disco Biscuit, which then gets funky, with a rollicking Zappa-esque rhythm break halfway through. The most beautiful tune is Chinese Flowers, recorded live last year, with lush romantic strings, followed by more sweet wordless vocalizing by Ruth Angell. The Zappa-influenced Maniacal Heroics of Number 13 features Jason Huxtable’s excellent marimba-playing. And somewhere in amongst the amiable riot is tenor saxophonist Xhosa Cole, recent winner of the BBC Young Jazz Musician competition.

Veteran music cartoonist Birmingham-based Hunt Emerson (who I remember from his work in the Melody Maker) provides cartoony CD artwork which encourages us not to take this enterprise too seriously.

Surge will be appearing on 27 April 2019 at Midlands Arts Centre (mac), Birmingham, as part of the third annual Surge In Spring festival, where this CD will be launched.

LINKS: Surge Orchestra

Surge In Spring at the mac

Hunt Emerson 

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