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April Jazz 2015

Ian Patterson By

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Marcin Wasilewski, Slawomir Kurkiewicz and Michal Miskiewicz have of course flourished prior to and post-Stanko on their own terms but there was always a little magic in this Stanko quartet and from the opening notes of the grooving "Little Thing Jesus," with all four musicians stretching out, it was as if the quartet had never been apart.

The set balanced blue-toned balladry and fiery bop- inspired numbers that covered a fairly expansive arc of Stanko's long career. Stanko remains the ultimate balladeer and scintillating slower numbers peppered the set. Stanko exuded melancholic lyricism on the all too brief "Pearl" and noirish reverie on "Celina" and "Song for Sarah." Greater warmth infused an uplifting rendition of the lovely "Sweet Thing," one of the only tracks from the quartet's three CDs.

Hypnotic at slow tempos, the quartet's heightened interplay was at its most compelling at mid-tempo strolls—such as with the swinging "Elegant Piece"—and on livelier fare. Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz's incendiary rhythms inspired Wasilewski and Stanko to some thrilling improvisations on "Bosonossa," the bop-fuelled "Gonja" and the bluesy fire of "Celina."

Stanko's quartet was given a standing ovation, returning for a brief encore with a smouldering version of Krzysztof Komeda's "Sleep Safe and Warm." It's a tune Stanko's sidemen recorded on their trio debut, Komeda (GOVI, 1995) and Stanko himself on Litania: Music of Krzysztof Komeda (ECM, 1997), underlining the common DNA that lies at the root of this exceptional quartet.

Beyond the three CDs they recorded together Stanko clearly feels he can delve into his back catalogue with this highly flexible quartet. It's tempting to think they might still return to the studio, nine years after Lontano (ECM, 2006), because it feels like they still have a lot to say to each other.

Day Two

13 Vices

The pairing of Belfast's first Music Laureate, composer Brian Irvine with improvising vocalist Jennifer Walshe on 13 Vices got day two of April Jazz off to a riotous, madly entertaining start. The music for string players and improvising musicians was loosely inspired by Mihail Chemiakin's slightly grotesque sculptures in Moscow, each of which represents a particular adult vice that is damaging to children.

The vices that Chemiakin based his thirteen figures on include alcoholism, prostitution, theft, ignorance, war propaganda, child labour, irresponsible science, indifference and poverty. Irvine and Walshe—though touching on some of Chemiakin's themes— were more concerned with vice in general. As intense as the seventy- five-minute performance was, there was plenty of hilarious satire and dark comedy from the hugely impressive Walshe, who barely drew breath during an exhilarating performance.

With Irvine energetically conducting the Red Note String Ensemble of cellist Robert Irvine, violinist Jackie Shave and violaist Max Baillie, Walshe alternated between improvised vocals—a stream of non-syllabic noises, German song etc—and reading selected texts. It was a full twenty minutes before saxophonist Paul Dunmall, bassist Paul Rogers—both frequent collaborators with Irvine—and percussionist Mark Saunders entered the fray, ratcheting up the intensity to a cacophonous level.

Visceral and abstract, ear-splitting, serene and melodic in turn, Walshe was at the epicentre of the sonic storm as it swelled and diminished. Her tireless improvised meditations on indifference and ignorance, jealousy, beauty/vanity, the manipulation of information/propaganda, fidelity, and sexual abuse/harassment were darkly humorous; the Virgin Mary, Norwegian pop group A-ha, Molly Malone and a brilliant caricature of a drunk on a bus were all press- ganged into the act. "The Fields of Athenry," the classic Irish song of love, oppression and rebellion—and the Irish rugby terrace anthem—will never sound the same again.

Artists like Irvine and Walshe almost never get invited to perform the national anthem before big sports events but life would be far more entertaining if they were allowed a little carte blanche. Energetic and energizing, the musically adventurous, tempestuous fiesta that was 13 Vices proved that entertainment and intellectual stimulation are not incompatible. Sometimes they go hand in hand in wholly unexpected guises.

Sean Mac Erlaine

It's not every day that someone pulls a chalumeau—the baroque precursor of the clarinet—out of their pocket, but Sean Mac Erlaine is no run-of-the-mill musician. The multi- woodwind instrumentalist straddles jazz, folk and free improvisation and is a member of This is How We Fly, which fuses Irish, Swedish and American folk traditions.

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