Cork Jazz Festival: Cork, Ireland, October 26-28, 2012
The Roy Hargrove Quartet played the chief gig on Saturday night, at Cork's ornately quaint Everyman theatre. The leader's trumpeting was as crisply defined as ever, whether stinging brightly or burbling through his mute. Hargrove struck just the right balance between affable relaxation and smoldering tension. Saxophonist Justin Robinson was a revelation, setting a challenging and explorative tone during several striking solo assaults. He rose out of the general slinkiness, pushing the sound towards a more belligerent awakening. Passion went on a labyrinthine journey. Then, guest singer Roberta Gambarini took a turn back to the jazz mainstream, an even more effective move following Robinson's contrasting contribution.
One of the weekend's most electric performances was on the freebie circuit, back at the Crane Lane Theatre. The James Taylor Quartet opened up Sunday shortly after 2pm, and swiftly established an atmosphere that was more suited to the midnight hour. Hammond organist Taylor always gives his all to a show, and he didn't rein it in for the early afternoon. There was a notably eager mood amongst the crowd, and the coiled retro funk-soul groove capitalized on this lust for dancing. After only a few numbers, there was a hardcore of movers down at the front, kiddies navigating between them, joining in with the mischief. The literal quartet core was expanded with a two-piece horn section, instantly magnifying an already heated situation. Taylor snapped from 1960s- style groove-jazz into 1970s disco stomping, then back to filmic go-go strutting, converting to soul when singer Yvonne Yanney stepped up. Taylor's fingers (and entire locked hands) skated across the keys, creating vast ripples of Hammond bombast. The extended set ended with an audience chant that just would not cease, one of those rare moments when crowd participation takes over and becomes spontaneous crowd improvisation.
The excitement was sustainable by just crossing the small street outside. Grubby blues trucking could be heard emanating from the pub opposite. Irish singer Mary Stokes was resident at Counihans for the whole weekend, delivering multiple sets. She's descended from the Janis Joplin school of soulful rockers, but the blues remained absolutely central for her fierce band. The harmonica player Brian Palm, and the band's lead guitarist, were constantly jousting with a stream of powerfully articulate solos. Stokes imbued the songs with a gritty authenticity. A significant portion of the James Taylor audience had been lured in by the over-spilling sounds, finding new energies in close proximity. This was the strength of the free part of the festival's rolling program.
On Sunday evening, the Everyman presented another double bill, opening with Chris Dave & The Drumheadz. Although technically impressive, this band exuded an almost barren aura, obsessed with technique, imprisoned by the flash and building a wall of insular self-involvement in front of the audience. Dave's drum kit was augmented with towering spiral-cymbals, which this Texan tended to overuse when he wasn't ramming, thundering or otherwise rattling off high speed, ultra-hardened snare- skin sounds. Likewise, guitarist Tim Stewart busily spiraled needlessly into his own innards. Kebbi Williams seemed strangely underused, downing saxophone for the flute, but often found lying dormant to the rear of the stage.