Peter Bacon's Jazz Diary

Want to see what jazz is going to be like from now on? You don't need a crystal ball any more, or be searching through the more obscure dens and dives of Soho or the Lower East Side, though I'm sure it's all happening there too. You just need to stick around Birmingham.

A few weeks ago Soweto Kinch launched his magnificent album, A Life in the Day of B19, which set a new standard for fusing jazz and hip-hop; now another Birmingham band, Sugarbeats, pulls together all kinds of influences into a thoroughly coherent whole with Search for Peace (Calm Beast Records CABCD01).

The album, their first, goes on sale on Monday but if you can squeeze into the launch party at the Bull's Head in Moseley tomorrow night, who knows, you may be able to pick up an early copy.

Its title sums up the great sunshiney, nu-hippy stance of this band. Think Roy Ayers and you have the general drift of their lyrical bent.

Behind the singing and trumpet playing of Leo Altarelli there is the double-barrelled saxophone power of Mike Fletcher on alto and Ed Johnston on tenor, the ever-so-70s keyboards of Rob Norman, the bass of Chris Mapp and the percussion/drum team of Alan Gardiner and Lewis Hornsby.

These players will be familiar to many as most, if not all, have passed through the Birmingham Conservatoire jazz course.

The double drum set-up means the Latin influences can be exploited bringing even more light into the mix. Soloists of the calibre of Fletcher, Johnston, Norman and Altarelli are not to be found round just any street corner.

Above all, it's the concentrated sense of purpose that makes this band special.

They have incorporated a lot of the hip, wine bar sounds of 70s, 80s and 90s jazz lite, but refashioned it into a strikingly contemporary and extremely cool concoction with that crucial added depth.

This is also a band developed not in the sterility of the studio but on bustling and sweaty bandstands like the Rainbow in Digbeth - which means they are practised in that grand old art of entertainment.

There is so much new music that claims to have really popular appeal while still trying to hang on the jazz handle, but it's really just pop pure and simple.

Sugarbeats, like Kinch, make music that potentially has all that mass appeal yet can still bring a beam to a jazz lover's mug.

There's more information, though it's scant and in a suitably difficult hippy script on their website

The other strong suit this week is blue, and in the plural, too.

Tonight at The Robin 2 in Bilston, you can hear the wonderful Eric Bibb, like Keb Mo' a master of the art of the acoustic blues.

And if the blues is still in your bones on Sunday, pop out to the Lichfield Guildhall where you can hear American bottleneck maestro Catfish Keith doing his slidey thing.

To book for Bibb go to and for Catfish Keith, call 01543 262223.

Other gigs of note: Friday: Bassist Ben Markland is busy in two places, first with his band featuring Chris Bowden on alto and Pete Harris on guitar for the 5.30-7pm Rush Hour Blues free session in the Symphony Hall bar. Then he moves to the Bull's Head in Moseley for more groove-based jazz and funk from 9.30pm. That'll cost you a mere #2.

Saturday: The Stratford upon Avon Music Festival winds up with Cleo Laine, John Dankworth and Friends at the Civic Hall from 7.30pm. Tickets on 01789 207100 or go to

Saturday: Somalian-born MC K'naan, also known as The Dusty Foot Philosopher, presents hip-hop with an injection of politics at The Drum from 9pm. Tickets are #9 (#7) in advance or #12 on the door. Tickets can be booked at or on 0121 333 2444.

Sunday: The Lizzy Parks Trio plays for free from 4pm at Hotel du Vin, Church Street.

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