10th Bray Jazz Festival
The encore, a new composition entitled "Langston's Lullaby," was dedicated to Harris' s new-born son: "It's my first child and its unbelievable" Harris explained, "I've had the chance to travel the world many times over and do what I love and I thought I had lived life, but you haven't lived life until your son's peed on you." The song, which began with the beautiful, tender melody carried by Harris and Benjamin, grew in intensity before fading slowly, as softly as slumber.
The late-night session in the upstairs bar of The Martello kicking off at midnight featured the quintet of Irish guitarist Hugh Buckley. Buckley (left)is a hugely talented guitarist whose straight-ahead jazz was particularly driving and energy-filled, perhaps due to the fact that the band had to fight against the noise of a couple of hundred late night revelers. After a fine first set from Buckley's quintet, Stefon Harris's band took the stage in an impromptu jam and, with the leader watching from the side of the room, it proceeded to hypnotize the crowd with its powerful playing.
The final day, too, was packed with outstanding performances. Tarab, a five-piece Irish ensemble led by Italian accordionist Francesco Turrisi, delighted the old Town Hall crowd with their blend of Irish traditional and southern Mediterranean melodies. Emer Moycock on flutes and pipes was exceptional and combined harmonically to great effect with Nick Roth on alto sax; a range of frame drums, tamburellos and bodhrans were expertly played by Robbie Harris and Turrisi.
Tarab varied the pace and intensity of the songs nicely: an Indian harmonium, Irish flute, saxophone and bodhran conjured Arabic vistas on a beautiful slower number. This ability to bring sounds from different cultures together whether on slow airs or faster jigs and blend them as naturally as the colors of nature lies at heart of this group. Tarab is an Arabic word which, as Turrisi explained, means the ecstasy of music, and the range of moods conjured and the top-notch musicianship certainly held the crowd under a spell. Tarab have as yet to record their music, but one can only hope that a group as good as this gets the wider exposure it surely deserves.
The choice in the afternoon was between guitarist Sylvain Luc's trio or the trio led by New York based Japanese pianist Eri Yamamoto. I opted to catch the band before Luc and then race over to the Royal Hotel for Yamamoto. Guitarist Tommy Hafferty is one of the very best in Ireland though his reputation extends far beyond these shores, having played with Benny Golson, Lee Konitz and Martial Solal. Backed by French pair Stephane Faucher on drums and Michel Zenino on double bass, the trio sailed through a set of Irish songs arranged by bassist Zeninon.
The interplay among the trio was sharp, and Hafferty, who has an original voice, employed space to great effect, with Zeninon enjoying equal protagonism. Zeninon fairly danced with his bass guitar, such was his enthusiasm, and seemed to embrace it as well, drawing deep, strong notes of thumping resonance. The crowd was appreciative of a set high on energy and quality.
Over at the Royal Hotel a packed room was treated to a fine performance by the Eri Yamamoto trio. Although she has been in New York for fourteen years and plays all over the world, Yamamoto (pictured left) is still a relatively unknown figure in the jazz world, although her excellent album Duologues(AUM, 2008) with the likes of William Parker
Playing with her regular sidemen of Dave Ambrosio on bass and Ikuo Takeuchi on drums, Yamamoto showed that she has an original voice whose inspiration lies in the most normal, everyday thingsa bumpy bike ride, sheep, bottled water, a treeand translates them into highly impressionistic playing. Her focus is on carrying a melody, her virtuosity never overshadowing the rhythm of her playing. With the exception of a gentle interpretation of "Danny Boy" the set was of original tunes that showcased Yamamoto's lyricism and penchant for joyous melodies. Her fertile imagination engenders songs of real character, and after more than a decade playing together this trio is tight and swinging. Yamamoto left the stage announcing her intention to go out and "drink a lot of Guinness." Now there's a jazz pianist the Irish can relate to.