Bray Jazz Festival 2013
Médéric Collignon, pocket trumpeter and improvising vocalist, is well known in France for the diversity of his projects, and for his showmanship. Besides collaborating with some of France's top jazz musicians, like clarinetist Louis Sclavis, saxophonist/clarinetist Michel Portal and violinist Didier Lockwood, Collignon has collaborated in various art forms including dance, theater and comedy. During his performance at the Mermaids Arts Center these diverse influences were exhibited in his jumping about the stage, his gesticulations, mugging and comic asides. Collignon, as the audience was witness to, is the complete entertainer.
With his quartet Jus de Bocse, Collignon has revisited two extremes of trumpeter Miles Davis oeuvre; his collaboration with Gil Evans on Porgy and Bess (Discograph, 2006) and Davis' first electric period from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s on Shrangri-Tunkashi-La (Plus Loin Music, 2010). It was to Davis' jazz-rock/funk that Jus De Bocse turned its attention on Friday evening, and it wasn't for the faint-hearted.
Almost inevitably, Collignon sounded a lot like Davis, but there was no escaping the power and skill in his improvisations during the colossal half-hour opening segment, which began from a simple bass funk motif. Pools of introspectionwith keyboardist Mathieu Jerome and Collignon hanging ethereal clusters of notes in the airwere but oases in an enveloping wall of sound. Collignon let rip with a series of searing runs, that together with drummer Philippe Gleizes' unrelenting barrage could have woken the dead.
"Ife" began with Collignon's vocal improvisation, part beat-box, and part impersonation of distorted guitar and muted trumpet. With the bass motif gathering strength, the quartet was soon firing on all cylinders and the intensity only seemed to grow over the course of the next thirty five minutes. A breathless vocal improvisation married Collignon's hyper take on konnakol and an array of odd noises, ranging from Frank Zappa-esque comedy and heady sci-fi soundscapes to urban beatbox rhythms. With pocket trumpet in hand again, Collignon led the quartet in the theme to "Interlude," in a blistering climax to a powerful show.
After two such adrenaline-pumping shows only a pint or two of the dark stuff could reduce the excitement levels sufficiently to allow sleep, and there were plenty of pubs in Bray still serving up the black medicine. Over at the Martello Hotel, the Max Zaska Trio was holding the attention of a small pocket of the packed bar with a polished set of standards. Guitarist Zaska impressed not only with his technique but with his melodic improvisational flow. His style leaned towards a straight ahead John Scofield and he was ably supported by double bassist Baz Rycraft and drummer Satya Darcy.
All three musicians are products of Dublin's Newpark Music Centerthe only institution in Ireland to offer a jazz program and Rycraft described his studies there as intense but "life changing." During the three days of Bray Jazz 2013 a large number of Newpark music students and graduates of a very high level of competenceand confidenceturned up on the festival program, suggesting that there's jazz talent aplenty in Ireland. However, given the real dearth of jazz venues the trend seems to be for young musicians to pack their bags and head across the water to London, or over the bigger pond to New York and Boston.
When seen in this light, the number of foreign jazz musicians who have made Ireland their home in the immigration wave of the past two decades has helped not only to maintain jazz as a live entity, but to diversify the type of jazz being played and listened to.
Hopa! Carnival of Balkan Music/Norrland
There were foreign musicians galore to kick start day 2. A temporary stage was the centerpiece of the Civic Plaza on Saturday where musicians from Serbia, Russia, The Ukraine, Turkey, Italy, Ireland and the UK treated the crowds to a feast of Balkan music. The free "festival within a festival" entitled Hopa!, was the first stab at an outdoor event during the 14-year history of the Bray Jazz Festival and it proved to be a resounding success with the public.
Four bands, Paprika,Yurodny, She' Koyokh and North Strand Kontra Band blew tubas and trombones, exhausted fiddle strings, sang and danced for five hours, pulling the crowd into the celebration along the way. Paprika violinist Bogdan Vacarescu was one of several standout virtuosos on the day, but he lamented the fact that the quartet should have been a sextet but for the fact that the band's two London-based Serbian accordionists, Milos Milivojevic and Zivorad Nikolic hadn't received their performance visas in time to travel.
North Strand Kontra Band did have an accordion, and banjo, saxophone, clarinet and trombone to boot. Its mixture of Serbian and Romanian tunes had the kids in the plaza dancing deliriously. Hemel Hempstead may seem an unlikely well-spring for Klezmer and Balkan music, but that's where She'Koyokh was founded in 2001 by violinist Susie Evans. Evans and Turkish singer Cigdem Aslam danced in the plaza and singer Paul Tkachenko conducted a crowd sing-along in Yiddish, surely another first for the BJF. Dublin-based Yurodny played a rousing set featuring virtuoso violinist Oleg Ponomarev, accordionist Francesco Turrisi and saxophonist/founder Nick Roth.
In a grandstand finish, an impossibly large number of musicians from all four bands joined together on the small stage to the delight of the crowd. The outdoor mini-festival succeeded on a number of levels, not least of which was the casual, carnival atmosphere, something with which jazz festivals are not always associated. The stroll in stroll out nature of the event throughout the afternoon drew probably upwards of a thousand people and no doubt did a lot to spread news of the BJF 2013 around town. In addition, the relaxed, fun atmosphere and the top-drawer musicianship on display may well stir the curiosity of a few first-timers when the BJF rolls round again in 2014.
The early evening concert in the Town Hall was an intimate affair by Swedish duo Norrland. Saxophonist Jonas Knutsson and guitarist Johan Norberg have recorded three albums of music drawing from the rich Swedish folk tradition. The last of these was Skaren: Norrland III (ACT Music, 2008) but they continue to perform live whenever their respective schedules permit. With the last rays of the evening sun illuminating the stained-glass windows of the Town Hall chamber, there was a suitably relaxed and quiet atmosphere for such hauntingly beautiful music.
In the main, Knutsson's saxophone carved the principal melodic lines with Norberg plying intricate accompanying lines. Century-old polskas, and compositions inspired by towns and nature provided the inspiration for the duo's intimate dialogs. After one particularly pretty polska dating from the 19th century, Norberg said: "That's the beauty of a beautiful melodyit never dies." In explaining the Swedish folk musician's relationship with his or her subject matter, Norberg said: "We don't sing about the lake, we sing the lake."
One Swedish musician who did much to revive interest in old Swedish polskas and herding songs was pianist Jan Johansson, whose duo album with bassist Georg Riedel, Jazz Pa Svenska (Megafon, 1964) continues to have an influence far beyond the confines of Sweden to this day. Johansson and Riedel's interpretations of folk songs were jazz tinged, an idiom that was essentially absent from Norrland's interpretations. Norberg pointed out that playing their own traditional music with improvisation, yet without the blueprint of the American blues or jazz felt like "a kind of freedom."
Having said that, Norberg's strings betrayed a distinctly bluesy feel on the last two numbers, though as this was a performance before a typically open-minded Bray jazz crowd and not the elders from the Society for the Preservation of Swedish Folk Tunes, nobody minded.