Ireland's jazz scene may not yet count for much on the international stage, but it's producing players and writers of undoubted talent. On the evidence of bi-polAr, trombonist Paul Dunlea can be added to that growing roster, especially for lovers of the funkier end of the jazz spectrum.
Based in Cork, Dunlea formed the Paul Dunlea Group in 2011. bi-polAr is Dunlea's debut album as leader, but he's by no means a newcomer, having worked as a musician or arranger with leading Americans such as saxophonist Bobby Watson and bassist Kyle Eastwood, and with Irish performers like singer Mick Flannery, the Dublin City Jazz Orchestra and the Cork City Jazz Band.
Having composed all of bi-polAr's tunes, Dunlea's particular strength as a writer lies in his ability to combine strong, often rather romantic, melodies with tight grooves. However, this album's strongest tune, the melancholy "The Honeymoon Is Over," lacks these grooves, instead replacing them with Danny Healy's beautifully judged flugelhorn solo and some harmonically engaging interplay between Dunlea and soprano saxophonist Nick Roth. The melody/groove combo gives "Bi-polAr" an instantly engaging, funky, rhythm, courtesy of bass guitarist Eoin Walsh and drummer Davie Ryan, that's picked up and extended by the horn players before pianist Phillip Collins and Ryan break off for a '70s style Fender Rhodes and drum duet. The combo gives "Twists And Turns" a similar feel, this time led by Dunlea's fruity trombone and Collins' deft piano work.
"Sightly," (as it's called on the album insert, although it's "Slightly" on the back cover) meanders in an unfocussed fashion and represents the album's only drop in quality. The standard is quickly regained on the short but groovy "Fused" and the up-tempo "Throwback," which features Michael Buckley's alto flute solo and closes the album in fine, danceable, style. The running time is fairly short by contemporary standards at around 38 minutes, but not a second is wasted. Sporting a great cover design, bi-polAr is another indication of the talents at work in the Irish scene, and helps to establish Dunlea's reputation within that scene.
Track Listing: The Honeymoon Is Over; Bi-polAr; Twists And Turns; Sightly; Fused; Throwback.
Personnel: Paul Dunlea: trombone; Danny Healy: trumpet, flugelhorn; Nick Roth: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone; Phillip Collins: piano, Fender Rhodes; Eoin Walsh: bass; Davie Ryan: drums; Michael Buckley: alto flute (6).