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Live Reviews

Workin' II - Irish Jazz Showcase: Dublin, Ireland, May 26, 2013

By Published: June 6, 2013
A thumping tenor and alto saxophone intro, courtesy of Sam Comerford and Chris Engel, announced the arrival of neo-soul outfit Butter. When the dust had settled, singer Georgia Cusack eased into Erykah Badu's "Didn't Cha Know." Butter has been together for a just over a year, but already there's a lovely tight-but-loose dynamic in the seven-piece band's interplay. Neo-soul old and new inspires the band's repertoire, but the combination of a double-sax front line and versatile guitarist Stephen McHale considerably broadens the collective options. "Love Poems" was given an upbeat treatment, with drummer Dennis Cassidy and bassist Sean Maynard Smith bringing a more insistent groove to the mix than Bilal's original version. McHale's snaking guitar solo lent the tune a harder—though no less soulful—edge.

Cusack's silky vocals were best appreciated when there was less going on, as on the Burt Bacharach/Hal David hit, "The Look of Love," and Aaliyah's "One in a Million." On the latter, keyboardist Johnny Taylor's minimalism proved that less is more, and throughout the set his low-key brush strokes, like little splashes of color, were a fundamental part of the group sound. The centerpiece of the performance was Radiohead's "National Anthem," a soaring version with Cusack leading a pronounced psychedelic segment. The honking, squealing saxophone cacophony, as heady as bliss, remained faithful to the original in spirit.

On the largest stage in the main hall, Peruvian drummer Cote Calmet's quintet, Phisqa, won over a large crowd in a set drawn mainly from its impressive debut recording, Phisqa (Self Produced, 2013). What set Phisqa apart from most other contemporary jazz bands was Calmet's transposing of Afro-Peruvian rhythms to his kit, and his effusive, energetic playing was at the center of everything. "Muerdele El Diente" opened the set, with guitarist Julien Colarossi, and that man Chris Engel again, enjoying extended solos. Colarossi exhibited the flair and fluidity of ideas that made his debut recording as leader, Note to Self, (Self Produced, 2013), such a resounding success. Engel, for his part, combined lyricism with John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
-esque fire, particularly on the rampaging "Nuna."

Phisqa's debut was released just a month or so earlier, but a couple of new songs already made it into the set list. "Fratello" featured pianist Leopoldo Oslo's dancing lines, whilst a ballad gave bassist Cormac O'Brien a deserving turn in the spotlight. The band's habitual set closer, "Ayarachi," featured lively closing statements from all, bookended most elegantly by Calmet on charango (Andean lute), accompanied by Engel on soprano.

A little improvisation sometimes goes a long way, and the duo Bebop and Rock Steady- -multi-instrumentalist Tom Walsh and drummer Shane Latimer—indulged in some comedic antics that involved Walsh running through the crowd and urging it frantically to join in clapping and singing. Enforced participation is almost the antithesis of improvisation, unless it serves as a springboard for creativity, but in truth there was meager audience enthusiasm, and consequently little in the way of spark to fire the musicians. Instead, Walsh goofed around like eccentric singer John Otway for awhile, and seemed to be having fun in his own world.

Latimer and Walsh were soon joined by a whole raft of musicians, eventually numbering eighteen, who collectively made up Outerspaceways Inc—a tribute band to pianist/composer Sun Ra. Complete with matching orange robes—though with not nearly enough spangle—five saxophonists, two trumpeters, two drummers on one kit, a fiddler, a guitarist and other assorted other loonies gave a hugely enjoyable, tongue-in- cheek performance of such Ra staples as "We Travel the Spaceways" , the joyous "Face the Music" and "Space is the Place."

In time-honored Arkestra tradition, the Outerspaceways Inc. ensemble slowly snaked its way through the crowd, chanting and playing jubilantly. That man Engel, this time on baritone sax, ventured into the audience, scaring a little girl with his frenzied playing and manic gyrations. Back onstage, as Walsh conducted the riotous assembly with lunatic verve, a cacophonous, swirling mosaic of sound engulfed the audience with that mixture of discipline and freedom that characterizes the Arkestra to this day, under the guidance of saxophonist Marshall Allen
Marshall Allen
Marshall Allen
sax, alto

With Belfast 16-piece QUBe Myth Science Space Arkestra paying its own tribute to Ra during the city's recent Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, it's reassuring to know that Ra's music is seemingly alive and well in this small country sandwiched between continental Europe and the endless void, as the centenary of one of jazz's most prolific and controversial figures nears in 2014.

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