10th Bray Jazz Festival
It is no easy task to do Angeli's music justice in describing it, but as guitarists go, he is definitely an original of the species; better perhaps to let the guitarist's own words describe his approach to improvisation: "When I start to play I really don't know what I play; it is a kind of a travel for me. It is like navigation between two islands. When there is something to explore I stop there and think this is nice. I like, and I try to fish something." Angeli encored with a haunting, bow-led take on Bjork's "Unravel," plastic bag and all, and arrived once again to an island of silence which marked the end of his travel and that of the audience who had travelled with him, rapt all the while.
The Bray Jazz festival has since its inception promoted Irish jazz talent and festival director George Jacob enthuses about the musicians coming up: "There's some fantastic contemporary jazz coming out of Ireland thanks to the Newpark Music Centre in Dublin. We're always anxious to retain a strong Irish element." This year's edition was no exception with one third of the eighteen concerts on the program showcasing Irish musicians of a uniformly high standard.
Just fifteen minutes after Paolo Angeli's concert an appetizing double bill kicked off in the Mermaid Art's Centre. First off was a trio consisting of Irish pair Michael Buckley (pictured right) on tenor saxophone and Ronan Guilfoyle on acoustic bass, alongside Indo-Dutch drummer Chander Sardjoe.
Buckley and Guilfoyle are seasoned musicians and can boast collaborations with the likes of Sonny Fortune, Joe Lovano, Lee Konitz, Kurt Rosenwinkel, John Abercrombie and Rudresh Mahanthappa amongst others. Sardjoe has performed with Steve Coleman, and with Guilfoyle he formed one of the most impressive rhythm sections of the three days; his blistering drumming was not dissimilar to that of Jeff "Tain" Watts.
Although this was the first time the three had performed together, Guilfoyle has played with both in different combos so the tight interaction in this trio was no surprise. Guilfoyle's lead lines demonstrated why he is so in demand around the world as a teacher of improvisation, and Buckley too demonstrated personality aplenty on tenor; galvanized by the relentless energy of Sardjoe and the irresistible bass of Guilfoyle, Buckley fairly ripped it up without ever meandering. In just under an hour this trio delivered a muscular, highly satisfying performance and one hopes that this is the beginning of a long association.
As in most multiple-concert festivals it is simply not possible to be in all places at the same time, and it was a toss up between the Rez Abassi Quartet at the Royal Hotel or Stefon Harris & Blackout at the Mermaid Arts Centre. Harris, whether on vibes or marimba, is one of jazz's great instrumentalists, but he is also a great band leader, allowing his musicians the space to develop their voices and shine.
The twenty-minute opener "Blackout," which segued into a new number, "Gentle Wind," gave everyone the chance to stretch out a little. After an impressive opening statement from Harris, alto saxophonist Casey Benjamin cut loose before handing the baton to twenty-two year-old New Orleans pianist Sullivan Fortner. Harris discovered Fortner whilst giving a clinic in Ohio and was so impressed by the pianist that he took him on the road. Throughout the concert there were plenty of signs to suggest that Fortner, who possess tremendous touch, a formidable technique and imagination to match, is a name we'll hear a lot more of in the future.
Harris's solo improvisation was a concert highlight, and you could almost see his mind at work as ideas presented themselves to him and the pleasure he took in these discoveries and in his explorations of them. The gorgeous melody that eventually unfolded and which the rest of the band picked up was the title music for the film King Leopold's Ghost, (2006) a stunning interpretation of a composition entitled "Until" by Sting.
Spontaneity was a feature of the concert, and an exchange between Fortner and drummer Terreon Gully, which started off as a feel-you-way improvisation, developed into a full band workout with a lovely Latin sway. The sudden injection of pace by bassist Lucas Curtis completely turned the piece on its head and set Benjamin off on a full-blooded Parkeresque run, matched in turn by Harris in a blur of mallets between vibes and marimba in another jaw-dropping display of virtuosity. A song that started with probing improvisation finished with a tremendous swinging band groove, and this ability to create meaningful musical dialogue from scratch was fascinating to watch.