Spring at the Howard Assembly Room brings forth new life from ancient roots...
Well-known standards will be refashioned with invention, imagination and extraordinary talent by iconic performers and legends in the making, beginning with an intimate airing of Courtney Pine’s 16th studio album Song (The Ballad Book) on 4 May. Pine’s virtuosic bass clarinet combines with Zoe Rahman’s exquisite keyboard interplay on standards including Amazing Grace and A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, alongside more recent classics from Chaka Khan and Donny Hathaway.
Another huge talent using the Great American Songbook as his raw material, young Hammond organ maestro Cory Henry (14 May) takes jazz and gospel standards as jumping-off points for playful, soulful and incandescent improvised excursions. A friendship stretching back over half a century is celebrated with the visit of two jazz icons, South African horn player Hugh Masekela and American pianist Larry Willis, on 28 May. From Masekela’s righteous apartheid-era Afro-jazz and hits like Grazing in the Grass, to yet more standards from the likes of Gershwin and Cole Porter, they promise a cross-continental journey through the music and the turbulent history of the last century, in the company of two legendary performers who were there.
There will be more onstage chemistry and timeless songwriting on 12 May as Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones take their long-awaited debut album Little Windows on the road. Expect mesmerising, countrified harmonies recalling the Everly Brothers or Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, and writing that captures complex emotions with simple honesty. A collaboration of almost four decades’ vintage will be revisited when Laraaji performs Day of Radiance, his groundbreaking, Brian Eno-produced album from 1980.
The Yorkshire Festival comes to the Howard Assembly Room with five exceptional folk and world music shows programmed in conjunction with Songlines magazine. Rising from the ashes of Congolese icons Staff Benda Bilili, Mbongwana Star pull together traditional rhythms with a fistful of post-punk bass and electronics to glorious, unpredictable and uncategorisable effect on 22 June. Having given one of the most electrifying performances ever seen in the venue on her 2013 visit, Malian singer, songwriter and guitarist Rokia Traoré makes a triumphant return with her new album Né So on 23 June.
German prepared pianist Hauschka weaves together techno, electronica and ambient music with the spirit of John Cage on 24 June. Led by Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeremy Barnes, A Hawk and A Hacksaw (29 June) play works from their back catalogue and forthcoming album, steeped in the musical traditions of Eastern Europe, Russia and Turkey. Accompanied by an eleven-piece band of living legends, Eliza Carthy steers her Wayward Tour in the direction of Leeds on 2 July with a set of traditional material plucked from her impressive discography.
Coinciding with Opera North’s epic staging of Wagner’s Ring cycle, the apocalypse is explored in a programme of talks, films, concerts and art installations. Drawing on his provocative collection of essays Bring on the Apocalypse and his latest book How Did We Get into This Mess?, writer and activist George Monbiot challenges the fatalistic mood of our own times on 18 May. Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University Philip Kitcher uncovers the philosophical significance of the Ring with singers from Opera North on 26 May, and two singular, stunning cinematic visions of the abyss, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (20 May) and Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (21 May) have in common their unforgettable use of Wagner’s music.
Myths and epics provide fertile territory for a unique collaboration between American banjo picker and fiddler Frank Fairfield and Scottish singer-guitarist Alasdair Roberts. United by a formidable knowledge of the arcane folk traditions of the New and Old Worlds and a compelling, charismatic approach to performance, the pair take to the stage – both separately and as a duo – on 9 June. There is more fascinating cultural archaeology from journalist and commentator Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who finds a nation ‘fascinated and constantly altered by its encounters with the “Other”’ in Exotic England on Friday 10 June.
In the first of two outstanding chamber concerts, San Francisco’s revolutionary, Grammy-winning Kronos Quartet make their Leeds debut on 17 May with the most intimate date of their short national tour, performing a typically wide-ranging repertoire including the world premiere of a new piece by Martin Green of Lau. On 8 June the Out of the Shadows Festival presents a poignant tribute to the astonishing musicianship and creativity in the notorious Nazi prison camp Terezín, performed by the acclaimed Nash Ensemble.
To book tickets for Spring events, follow the links above or telephone Box Office on 0844 848 2727.
Image: Light Night 2015, Tom Arber