JAZZ / And all that, er, new music: Or whatever you want to call it . . . Phil Johnson looks forward to the diversity of the fifth Outside In Festival

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The Independent Culture
'NOW, YOU can think what you like about the art of jazz - quite frankly, I don't care what you think, because jazz is a thing so wonderful that if anybody doesn't rave about it, all you can feel about them is pity.'

Substitute 'new music' for jazz and the sentiments of Colin MacInnes's hero in Absolute Beginners don't have quite the same effect. It's hard to feel protective about something as bland-sounding as 'new music' (even harder to use it as an adjective to describe the pattern on a shirt); but the term is increasingly favoured by musicians and promoters who feel the old four-letter word is no longer up to the job.

This weekend's Outside In Festival of Jazz and Contemporary Music - traditionally the most adventurous of the British festivals - features a number of performers who would happily jettison the 'jazz' tag in favour of 'contemporary'. The confusion reflects the crisis of confidence that jazz - for want of a better word - is undergoing. Recession has bitten deep, venues have closed, and some musicians who landed major label record contracts in the late- Eighties boom years have seen them cancelled. Changes in public subsidy have contributed to a feeling of gloom; to make matters worse, a contentious article a while ago in the Guardian, of all places, suggested that jazz was a played-out form: all dressed up with nowhere to go.

In fact, British jazz has probably never been so lively, or so well regarded abroad. A lack of consensus about where the music is headed has created an open market for anyone with talent: bebop is still being played with conviction, while many of the 1970s generation of free players - no longer able to see themselves as the final stage in some Darwinian scheme of jazz evolution - have adapted to the changing times and acquired real authority outside their specialism. Despite this, gigs for musicians are getting harder to come by.

According to John Cumming, organiser of the fifth Outside In Festival at Crawley, 'The problem is one of funding.' In an attempt to deal with that issue, this year's festival will include a distinctly un-jazzy panel discussion and debate, 'What Happens to the Music When the Money Runs Out'.

But, as Cumming says, whatever the financial problems, 'The music goes on anyway.' The Outside In programme is both a consequence of the climate of recession - with none of the usual big-name foreign guests - and a protest against it. It showcases projects by British artists, often in collaboration with musicians from other cultures or disciplines. Star turns include, on Saturday, the Indian violinist Shankar in concert with Andy Sheppard and Nana Vasconcelos, and, later in the evening, Louis Moholo's Dedication Orchestra. On Sunday the saxophonist Trevor Watts and his African drum orchestra Moire Music perform with musicians, singers and dancers from the Venezuelan Teatro Negro de Barlovento. There's also an all-day studio project centred around the Balanescu String Quartet in collaboration with such musicians as Orphy Robinson and his band, Keith and Julie Tippett, John Surman and Steve Arguelles.

It's clear that Cumming favours the 'new music' tag: 'I don't feel that jazz should be separate from other contemporary music. It's very difficult to divorce the careers of people like Evan Parker and John Surman from those of Gavin Bryars and Alexander Balanescu. They all depend on similar types of work. In marketing concerts by Chick Corea and Steve Reich, there's a lot of similarities.'

For the saxophonist John Surman - probably the most respected of all British jazz musicians, who plays a solo concert on Sunday - 'the word jazz covers a multitude of sins.' Observing the present crisis, he takes the view that the music - whatever it's called - needs to establish its audience through links with education. 'The people of North India don't like their music because it sounds funny,' he says. 'They like it because they understand it, because it's part of their culture. People don't realise the skills involved in jazz and they need to be educated about them. Jazz musicians need to get into schools and turn people on.'

The Outside In Festival takes place at the Hawth Centre, Crawley, W Sussex on Saturday 5 and Sunday 6 September (0293 553636).

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