N&N Festival: Saturday, May 17

Ian Collins Today a closing flourish brings to our festival jazzy American visionary Jon Hassell - the world's most famous unknown contemporary composer and trumpeter.

Ian Collins

Today a closing flourish brings to our festival jazzy American visionary Jon Hassell - the world's most famous unknown contemporary composer and trumpeter.

He is the maker of “Fourth World” music, a mysterious mix of ancient and digital, composed and improvised, Eastern and Western.

His name may still be unfamiliar but let's judge him by the company he keeps - and the constellation of stellar artists he inspires. “Almost all of the musicians I meet at the moment seem to regard Jon Hassell as one of the God-like geniuses of contemporary music,” says David Toop, of The Wire (whose own music has just featured in Michael Clark's The Stravinsky Project).

And he adds: “There's no doubt that Jon has had an effect on contemporary music as important as Miles Davies or Jimi Hendrix or James Brown or the Velvet Underground.”

After studies with Karlheinz Stockhausen and early collaboration with Terry Riley (a recent festival bill-topper), he met Hindustani raga master Pandit Pran Nath and sought to translate that haunting Indian vocal style for the trumpet.

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His 11 singular solo albums over the past two decades have been hugely influential - bringing rave reviews from, and working partnerships with, Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, Baaba Maal, k.d. lang, Bjork, Bono, Talking Heads, the Kronos Quartet, fashion designer Issye Miyake, choreo-grapher Merce Cunningham and film director Wim Wenders. Oh, and Ry Cooder produced his last CD, Fascinoma.

And now, thanks to a festival commission and a world premiere in Norwich Cathedral tonight, the collaborative list includes our own The Voice Project - the 100-voice, open-access choir formerly known as Bigger Sky, directed by Sian Croose and Jonathan Baker.

Tonight the choir will perform Hassell's In Tsegihi (The Night Chant), with text from a Navajo ritual of healing, with the composer on trumpet and keyboard and support from his Maarifa Street band.

Meanwhile, our very fruitful link with Catalonia concludes with a sellout Orient-Occident show in St Peter Mancroft Church centred on the man who has revived the viola da gamba - that viol-between-the-legs or on-the-lap mainstay of Renaissance and Baroque music.

Jordi Savall, now with over 100 albums and two Grammy nominations to his credit, is a key figure in the world of early music. His Hesperion XXI features musicians from Morocco, Greece and Spain playing instruments such as the oud, santur and moresca.

There was a last-minute crisis when Moroccan oud player Driss el Maloumi had problems in Paris with a French exit visit. But a festival appeal to Norwich South MP and ex-home secretary Charles Clarke saw the British Embassy rushing to the rescue.

Orient-Occident explores the links between medieval Christian, Jewish and Muslim cultures, drawing on both ancient and modern music from Spain, North Africa, across Europe and into Central Asia. In a world of discord, and after a history of horror, it's a major ambassador for cross-cultural celebration and harmony.

Jordi Savall will also play and sign copies of his CDs in Prelude Records, in St Giles Street, Norwich, 11.30am-12.30pm today. Free entry.

A brilliant banner running through the festival has been that of MG Free - gratis events sponsored by May Gurney - and late tonight there will be the last and largest unfurling, with the Festival Finale in Earlham Park.

The best parties end with fireworks and ours is no exception - thanks to the incendiary Spanish artistes of Xarxa (pronounced Shar-sha) Teatre. They will literally make water flare and flame in a spectacular closing show inspired by the sea.

A mixture of water and explosive normally results in a damp squib, of course. But this time we're promised a cracking, crackling, blazing and amazing conclusion.

Our opening night street procession of Mephistomania, by Parisian company Friches Theatre Urbain, drew an estimated 6,000 spectators. A similar crowd can comfortably fit in the park tonight.

Our child-friendly festival launches into new toddler territory today, Saturday, with a Baby Rave - a dance and music event for the under-4s complete with DJ, movement tutors, lighting, projections, sensory floor coverings, pram parking and, er, parachutes Sounds perfect for the two youngest benefactors of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival - fledgling culture vultures Camille Vila Holloway (six months) and Siena Holloway (nearly 30 months).

The daughters of our festival director are following in the family line (dance).

It's now 20 years since the Norfolk and Norwich Triennial Festival turned into an annual jamboree and the breadth and depth of music on offer - as well as an advance into dance, theatre, comedy, puppetry, circus and children's events - now makes for more of a concerted carnival than a simple series of concerts.

The subsequent shift from autumn to spring has also been a success if the leap to record audiences is anything to go by.

All we need now, in my view, is for the Fringe to catch up with the body of work it's supposed to shadow. Strangely, that terrific bag of off-beat, off-the-wall tricks is still opened each autumn.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Holloway is already celebrating our largest ever festival with a follow-up next year which will be bigger yet and which will then take our Norfolk brand around the country and the continent in a follow-on tour. After a working break this summer - he spends July and August visiting festivals at home and abroad for added inspiration - our festive chief will revive his former profession and first love. He'll direct a new dramatic production which will cross as many frontiers, geographic and artistic, as possible. “At the moment we are thinking of touring with a fleet of trucks or taking over cathedrals,” he says, cryptically. “We're after a fusion of music, theatre, dance and circus to produce a very exciting visual spectacle.”

After the official Festival Finale there's a final fling in the Festival Club at Cinema City. The party runs, and the bar flows, until 2am. A film show completes the fun. Entry is free on the door but subject to capacity. Guarantee admission by bagging a free “after hours” pass when you book or collect a festive ticket.

WHAT'S ON TODAY

11am, 12.30pm, 2pm and 3.30pm Baby Rave, St Andrew's Hall;

11am and 2pm Tall Stories, Norwich Playhouse. SOLD OUT;

1pm and 8.30pm Teatro de los Sentidos, Indulge, Queen Street. SOLD OUT;

1.30pm Jazz boat trip, starts from Horning. SOLD OUT;

3pm and 8pm NoFit State Circus, Earlham Park;

7.30pm Jordi Savall, right, and Hesperion XXI, St Peter Mancroft Church. SOLD OUT;

8pm Jon Hassell with The Voice Project, Norwich Cathedral;

10.15pm Festival Finale: Xarxa Teatre, Earlham Park, FREE.

t To book tickets call 01603 766400. And don't forget: sellout events are still very likely to have returned tickets available on the door.

HOT TICKET

Today's two-for-one hot ticket offer is for Jon Hassell, above, and Maarifa Street with The Voice Project at Norwich Cathedral from 8pm. To bag this bargain call the box office - 01603 766400 - by noon.