17

Bray Jazz 2016

Ian Patterson By

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An extended unaccompanied piano intro bled into a "Siciliana" by Johannes Sebastian Bach, with the trio skipping along at the pace of slow jig before injecting pace towards the end as Werner stretched out vigorously with a series of flowing glissandi. A number of new songs required sheet music for the trio to follow the through-composed narrative, though improvisation was central to "Dinner Under the Stars" and "Animal Crackers," the former an elegant, classically-tinged slow-burner that flared dramatically towards the end, the latter a rhythmically knotty, tightly arranged outing that flirted with dissonance and abstraction.

A fresh spin was put on the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein tune "The Song is You," with slow funk passages alternating with dizzyingly fast interplay. Werner married lyricism and virtuosity on "Try to Remember," the Harvey Schmidt/Tom Jones tune from the 1960 musical The Fantasticks, with a brief nod to Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas" raising its head.

An up-tempo version of Wayne Shorter's "Pinocchio" featured a terrific solo from the ever-impressive Hoenig, and "Beauty Secrets," the last song on the trio's album The Melody (Pirouet Records, 2015), moved from hushed contemplation to more robust, flowing dialog. A standing ovation brought the trio back for one more tune, a lilting, playful version of Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way," which featured the incredible sight of Hoenig bouncing a stick off the stage, scooping it up in the air and carrying on without missing a beat; Werner isn't the only one who knows something of effortless mastery.

Vein featuring Greg Osby

Over in The Well, Swiss trio Vein and Greg Osby were renewing each other's acquaintance, as they have done periodically for seventeen years. It's a rare collaborative venture for Osby, who has usually preferred to lead his own groups. This gig marked a quick return to Ireland for Vein, following its appearance at Belfast's Brilliant Corners jazz festival in March, but the addition of M-Base veteran Osby, needless to say, created an entirely different dynamic.

In Belfast a couple of months previously, tunes like "Under Construction" had predominantly featured pianist Michael Arbenz's light, classically-influenced touch, yet with Osby stoking the group's engine the tunes were altogether meatier and the energy levels were also raised a notch. One constant, however, was the driving grooves of bassist Thomas Lahns and drummer Florian Arbenz, which propelled pianist and saxophonist to some charged soloing. A lively blues tune by Osby featured an extended solo from Michael Arbenz, fueled by incendiary drumming. The ballad "Black Tortoise," from Vein's Jazz Talks (Unit Records, 2015) saw Osby at his most persuasive, with a measured solo that balanced passion and grace. The lighting cast pink, blue and yellow colors on the church's arch and columns, which mingled with the natural light filtering through the windows to contribute to a special atmosphere.

Osby sat out a couple of new tunes from Vein's forthcoming release and the music seemed to breathe more minus the saxophonist. There was, however, no lack of muscle and fire in the trio's delivery on the first tune, while the second, a wonderfully melodious ballad, underlined the finesse that is also a hallmark of the trio's play.

The quartet reunited on "No Change is Strange," which moved from simmering introspection to feisty exploration via Osby's most animated improvisation of the set. Not to be outdone, Florian Arbenz unleashed a solo of technical brilliance and controlled passion that reverberated around the church walls.

Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz," a song that Osby has returned to again and again, capped an energized, engaging set in lyrical, easy-blowing bluesy fashion.

Conclave

The last act of Bray Jazz 2016 came in the late-night venue The Martello, remodeled this year to create the ambiance of an intimate jazz club. The honor of playing the final concert fell to drummer Conor Guilfoyle's new band Conclave, a vibrant Latin-jazz quintet steeped in the rhythms of Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazilian, Haitian and Uruguayan cultures.

Guilfoyle's tireless industry, flanked by conguero Ed McGinn, bassist Andrew Csibi, Venezuelan pianist/keyboardist Leopoldo Osio and—playing at least his third gig of the festival—guitarist Chris Guilfoyle , drove the ensemble relentlessly through searing Latin-jazz/jazz-rock terrain that eventually pulled the crowd onto the dance floor.

Chris Guilfoyle, mining a bottomless well of ideas, reeled off one spectacular solo after another. Osio, an impressive soloist himself, churned out buoyant salsa riffs that ignited the percussionists. Jazz standards were given the Cuban treatment, Afro-Cuban classics were reworked in a scintillating cross between Fania All Stars and early-period Santana.

Conclave provided the perfect exclamation mark with which to conclude Bray Jazz 2016. With the musicians all involved in numerous projects, Conor Guilfoyle's combo may struggle to play together with any frequency, but a recording, at the very least, is surely worth a shout.

Wrap-up

With sold-out shows across the three days for the first time since before the recession, Bray Jazz seems to have turned a corner. The festival served up, arguably, the best line-up of music in its seventeen editions, with many truly memorable concerts to cherish.

The Well made for a marvelous addition to the main program's venues and will hopefully host many more outstanding concerts in the years to come. The free concert there by Alex Mercado—supported by the Mexican Embassy—was a great way to bring people into the festival and give them a taste of what the larger program had to offer.

Bebop, swing, vocal standards, cutting-edge contemporary jazz of radically diverse styles and Afro-Latin jazz meant that jazz was represented in many of its primary colors. African rhythms and Celtic and Nordic folk music enriched the program; such diversity can only succeed in drawing an ever broader spectrum of people to the Bray Jazz.

There were more concerts this year than previously, offering greater choice to festival goers. The Bray Jazz Trail was particularly strong this year, with any number of enticing concerts by the best of Dublin's jazz musicians. With several musicians playing multiple gigs in diverse combos an artist-in-residence may be an option worth pursuing in the future. It would be another facet to the festival and a potential leg-up for the musician in question.

Bray Jazz is gradually broadening its horizons and there is undoubtedly great potential to grow the festival further still. Satellite towns and iconic locations throughout beautiful County Wicklow—host to innumerable famous film shoots from Michael Collins to Braveheart and from Barry Lyndon to Angela's Ashes—could prove a significant draw to those visitors looking for something more than a merely musical experience from their visit.

The tourist board Failte Ireland and Wicklow County could be the biggest beneficiaries of such expansion.

Whatever the future holds Bray Jazz is in the very capable hands of George and Dorothy Jacobs, who will doubtless continue to steer the festival cheerfully from strength to strength, and from one adventure to the next, much as they have done for the past seventeen years.

The eighteenth edition of Bray Jazz will be held over the May Bank Holiday weekend, 2017.

Photo Credit: John Cronin, Dublin Jazz Photography
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