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Steve Harris tribute at the Lighthouse Arts Centre

Barry Witherden By

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At one impressive and visceral juncture, sustained booming-notes suggested a helicopter descending into the auditorium.
Zaum, Jan Kopinksi and friends
Lighthouse Arts Centre
Poole, Dorset
September 28, 2018

Steve Harris—educator, facilitator, composer and master drummer—was born on 16 August 1948 and died on 11 January 2008. For some years he lived in Dorset, contributing a great deal to the arts scene, especially in Poole. In his memory, the studio auditorium in the town's Lighthouse Arts Centre hosted a tribute to him, remembering particularly his contribution to Pinski Zoo and his establishment of Zaum.

After a spoken tribute to Harris by Dan Somogyi, the evening's organiser, the concert began with two solo improvisations by saxophonist and Pinski Zoo leader Jan Kopinski, exploring mesmerising patterns and startling textures. Here and there he used looping and delay pedals to augment his tenor, combined with overtones and sub-tones modifying his tenor sound. At one impressive and visceral juncture, sustained booming-notes suggested a helicopter descending into the auditorium.

Next, Aidan Fisher introduced a short but very affecting piece in memory of Harris. He had composed a whole orchestral suite called Harris shortly after Harris died, but as the studio could not have accommodated an orchestra Fisher wrote a new piece, premiered that night by the Harris String and Piano Quintet, specially convened for this tribute concert. Harris' initials provided the piano with a motif of two notes, E flat and B natural—which in German notation are called S and H—that chimed slowly throughout the piece, whilst the strings played sustained chords that interweaved somberly and reverently.

The first half of the evening was completed by Zaum, with its core line-up of Geoff Hearn (soprano sax), Karen Wimhurst (clarinet and bass clarinet), Cathy Stevens (violectra), Adrian Newton (on what Hearn jokingly described as "cosmology," aka laptop), Udo Dzierzanowksi (electric guitar) and, on drums and the daunting task of substituting for Harris, Tony Gill. Kopinski and Harris' partner, Kathy Prince (on clarinet) joined them for some pieces. The set opened with a recording of a Harris solo, which amply demonstrated why he was so highly regarded as a drummer and a leader—though, as Hearn explained, he led from behind by example and inspiration, never telling the other members of Zaum how or what to do. The musicians began to play and, in due course, Gill took his seat and dovetailed with the recording of Harris as it faded away. The essence of truly great collective improvisation is active and responsive listening, and Zaum displayed this skill to a commendable degree, interweaving, reinforcing each other or prompting new directions, always somehow maintaining an entirely cohesive whole.

After the interval Kathy Prince, her and Harris's eldest daughter, May, plus three friends sang a Georgian folk-song a cappella. Though nervous about this public performance they sang beautifully. Stylistically it might have seemed out-of-place compared with the rest of the evening's music but, like Fisher's quintet, it was deeply sincere and moving and thus entirely appropriate.

Zaum returned to close the evening. Again, the degree to which the members of the band operate almost like a hive mind was impressive. Ideas begin with one musician and are then taken up by others, unexpected effects which result from the intersection of independent lines are embraced and developed, or space will be made for an especially engaging contribution from a solo player. Exemplary stuff, never releasing its hold on the attention, and Harris would have been rightly flattered.

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