Time to blow the fusions

Jazz, rock, folk and classical join forces in a five-day festival that breaks all the rules
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The Independent Culture

"All music becomes classical music in the end," wrote Alex Ross in The New Yorker recently. The histories of jazz and rock mirror this: from youthful rebellion through romantic excess and then experimentalism to retro-traditionalism. Now that rock appears to have completed the cycle (Little Richard to Pink Floyd to Sonic Youth to Oasis), Ross suggested, it should be possible to appreciate all three styles on the same level. If so, the five-day festival in Leeds this week should be the shape of things to come.

Not content with booking acts as diverse as the London Sinfonietta and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, the artistic director, Django Bates, has put together a programme of new pieces, collaborations and juxtapositions that make a mockery of genre boundaries. Fuse Leeds is the festival's name, but the musician bars the F-word: "No one's allowed to use the word 'fusion' any more, because of the old jazz-rock fusion."

Bates often bemoans the difficulty of promoting jazz in Britain, but he defines this festival in different terms. "I'm hoping it raises the profile of interesting music, which includes jazz. I mean, the Mondriaan quartet are playing John Zorn, a jazz saxophone player. But they're a string quartet." Bates's band, Human Chain, are collaborating with the Smith Quartet. The support act is "totally not what people would expect me to be interested in", Bates says: Sikth are an earsplitting young nu-metal band.

Another contribution from Bates himself is an intriguing 60th birthday present to Evan Parker. "When I got this gig I had an outpouring of ideas, and one was that I really wanted Evan Parker to play with an orchestra," he says. "He said he'd always wanted to do that, but he'd come up against problems because of the orchestral players not having that improvising language, and the improvising players not wanting to struggle reading stuff." Bates commissioned 60 composers to write one bar of music each, which he would make into something coherent for the saxophonist to improvise over as the Sinfonietta played it. The result? "It has been possible. I wasn't sure. Someone told me that the number of permutations of 60 bars is 60 factorial, which amounts to more atoms than there are in the universe."

Other highlights include the latest instalment of the guitarist Bill Frisell's collaboration with Djelimady Tounkara, and work by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, one of several "festival artists" who have written special pieces. "He's fascinated by the ondes martenot, which is a great starting point for a piece," says Bates.

The festival will also screen Simon Pummel's Bodysong, the experimental film for which Greenwood provided the soundtrack. In fact, the film programme is extensive: Saturday sees a special night where four musicians accompany a silent film of their choice - another cross-genre collaboration.

Fuse Leeds is at various venues in Leeds (0113-395 1244; www.fuseleeds.org.uk), Wednesday to Sunday

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