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Bray Jazz 2016


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Bray Jazz
Various venues
Bray, Ireland
April 29 -May 1, 2016

With first-rate music festivals mushrooming all over Ireland, Bray Jazz remains a highlight in a crowded calendar. Now in its seventeenth year, Bray Jazz' tried and tested format strikes a pleasing balance musically, with jazz, folk and world musics in the afternoon and evenings catering for the traditionalists and modernists alike. The weekend program, whilst full, is not overly cluttered, and mornings are left free to either catch up on sleep, explore the oldest of Ireland's seaside towns, walk by the shore or venture into the heather-clad foothills of the Wicklow Mountains.

The seventeenth Bray Jazz Festival served up a colourfully eclectic program, with a series of outstanding duo concerts in the Town Hall pointing to a more themed approach to programing this year. Enthusiastic crowds—the largest for some years—were treated to the contrasting strains of jazz from Europe and the Americas, with Magnus Ostrom and the Kenny Werner Trio presenting two very different sides of the same coin.

And in this, the centenary of the Easter Rising, when Republicans raised arms against British rule in Ireland, Ronan Guilfoyle 's suite A Shy-Going Boy cast a highly personal light on events whose significance is still the source of fresh analysis and debate a hundred years on.

As ever, high calibre local bands marked the Bray Jazz Trail, with the town's great pubs, hotels and eateries resonating to the sounds of vocal jazz standards, bebop, soul, funk, free-jazz and more bedsides, on this busy and memorable Bank Holiday weekend.

Traditionally, the opening concert of Bray Jazz has kicked off in the Town Hall in the early evening, but with plans seemingly afoot to grow the festival, Bray Jazz 2016 got underway at one o'clock, and in a new venue to boot.

The Well, a church with a long and convoluted history, had hosted workshops in past editions of Bray Jazz but this year was the first time that concerts were staged here as part of the festival's main program.

Day One

Alex Mercado

Mexican pianist Alex Mercado has grabbed a little spotlight since the release of his second album Symbiosis (Self-Produced, 2014), which featured heavyweights Antonio Sanchez and Scott Colley.This performance, however, drew mainly from his recent solo piano release, Refraction (Self-Produced, 2015), and it was a performance full of flare and vision.

"Art is a prism that absorbs reality and turns it into colors," Mercado told the audience. With the church's columns and arches bathed in blue and orange spotlights, and with the natural sunlight filtering through the church's windows, Mercado's musical prism reflected the dual strands of classical and jazz that inform his idiom. Melodically and rhythmically pronounced, Mercado's impressive two-handed technique unleashed technical bravura on thrilling tracks such as "Magnifying Glass" and "Aguila o Sol," and refinement on the quietly mesmeric "Refraction" and the elegiac "Broken Light." Whether attacking or caressing the Steinway keys, a notable classical vein colored Mercado's dramatically undulating compositions, including one wholly improvised number.

"Metropolitan Blues," inspired by Mexico City, captured the chaotic rhythmic currents of the densely populated metropolis, and brought more overtly jazz-influenced playing from Mercado than at any time during his performance, from bluesy cadences to accelerated Art Tatum-esque runs. A stellar performance concluded with the episodic title track to Mercado's first album, The Watcher (Self-Produced, 2012), an energetic number of grand design.

A technical heavyweight and a bold yet nuanced composer, Mercado is a virtuoso of whom we're sure to hear more.

Catriona McKay & Chris Stout

Bray Town Hall has played host to more folk music than jazz in the festival's life but such is the quality of the music, year after year, concert after concert, that these sunset performances are often a highlight of the three days. Harpist Catriona McKay and fiddler Chris Stout, without doubt, provided one of the most memorable concerts of Bray Jazz 2016.

Drawing inspiration from the music of Scotland's Northern isles, the duo began with the gentle "Louise's Waltz" before unleashing the foot-stomping reel "Time to Retreat." Having collaborated for twenty years and recorded together for over ten, the deep-rooted connection between the two musicians was pronounced, both on lyrical airs such as the hymnal "A Home Under Any Tree" and on jigs and reels where lead and comping roles were swapped back and forth either side of exhilarating unison play.

McKay's rhythmic, melodic and harmonic dexterity was simply phenomenal and her comping was every bit as thrilling as her lead lines; not for nothing was the harpist voted Scottish Traditional Instrumentalist 2014. Stout was no less impressive and together the duo spun a virtuoso masterclass on "Edges of High Water." A two-part segment from Seavaigers (Coda, 2014)—the duo's collaborative suite with composer Sally Beamish—began with a haunting lament recalling a mass-drowning of fishermen in the late 18th century; Catriona's unaccompanied harp then broke through the pervading melancholy like a shaft of sunlight, ushering in a delightfully cheery, upbeat melody.

Two stirring reels with the working title of "Barry's Reels" were inspired by a project the duo undertook in 2014 with the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra—"a good gig to land" quipped Stout—and Irish classical pianist Barry Douglas. Meaty rhythms underpinned flowing melodies, with McKay bringing Piazzolla-esque drama to the second reel. A captivating concert was rounded off with "Michael's Wood," a delicate air of undeniable beauty.

Passionate, emotive and uplifting—McKay and Stout's concert will rest long in the memory.

Magnus Öström

It had been three years since Magnus Öström last visited Irish shores for two low-key gigs in Navan and Carrick-on-Shannon, and the intervening period has seen the quartet develop into an increasingly powerful live unit. Bray Jazz was only the fourth gig of a tour promoting band's third album, Parachute (Diesel Music AB, 2016), and the four members—with Adam Forkelid subbing for Daniel Karlsson—stuck fairly closely to the sheet music throughout. Yet despite the relatively few road miles with this new material Öström striking compositions were delivered with no little swagger and bundles of energy.

Melody and infectious groove lay at the heart of punchy tunes like "Dog on the Beach" and "Parachute," and the harmonically intricate "Junas," with Andreas Hourdakis and Forkelid afforded greatest leeway to stretch out. Öström, however, is also a fine balladeer, as the brushes-directed "The Green Man and the French Horn" demonstrated. The dreamy reverie of the hypnotic "The Shore of the Unsure," the rock-inflected buoyancy of "Reedjoyce," the epic melodic contours of "Longing" and the plaintive tones of "Song for E"—Öström's heartfelt tribute to Esbjorn Svensson—made for satisfying shifts in dynamics.

The leader flexed his rhythmic muscles on the lively, prog-rock tinged "The End of Eternity," his solo spot juggling polyrhythmic bustle and humor to great effect. For the encore, the quartet ratcheted up the energy levels once more with "Piano Break Song," delivery a final dose of groove-based melodic medicine of the most infectious kind.

What's clear is that EST has informed Öström's solo music to some degree, just as Öström helped shape the music of that unique, uber-influential trio. Yet five years and three albums into his solo career, the confidence in Öström's writing, and above all in the live delivery, leave no doubt that the drummer is plotting a new course all his own.

Day Two

The hullaballoo in Ireland surrounding how the centenary anniversary of the Easter Rising should best be commemorated revealed much about the nation's sense of identity, its unresolved issues with the past and present, the romanticism and the schisms that persist. Uprisings against English rule in Ireland date back to the early sixteenth century but the Easter Rising of 1916, which led to civil war and the eventual partition of the country, is still a matter of emotive historical debate. In the end, however, the big event passed off with color, pageantry and solemnity that seemed to satisfy all.

Ronan Guilfoyle

Poets, writers, documentary makers and composers of every stripe all labored hard to commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising but few had such a personal connection to the events of Easter Week 1916 as Ronan Guilfoyle, whose suite, A Shy-Going Boy paid tribute to his grandfather, Joe Guilfoyle, who served in the Volunteers under Éamon De Valera.

The eight-part suite was interspersed with audio recordings of Joe Guilfoyle and Padraig Pearse, one of the leaders of the 1916 armed insurrection, subsequently executed by the English army. The suite was an attempt by Ronan Guilfoyle to reconcile the "quietly-spoken, humorous old man" that he remembered his grandfather as, with the idealistic youth who fought the English and would go on to serve on Michael Collin's intelligence staff and engage in political assassinations.

Musically, the suite was melodious and tempestuous in turn, with Guilfoyle's sextet comprised of some of the best musicians from Ireland's exciting contemporary music scene. Saxophonist Sam Comerford, trumpeter Nick Smart and guitarist Chris Guilfoyle plied rich harmonious lines or wove dancing counterpoint under the bedrock of Ronan Guilfoyle's elastic bass ostinatos, Matthew Jacobson's lithe drumming and pianist Izumi Kimura's bold, sometimes angular attack.

Martial drums and sombre harmonies set an early tone of contemplative gravitas, though on the whole the suite was characterized by a combustible energy, and a sense of ever-evolving drama. Dense ensemble passages and exhilarating solos dovetailed over punchy rhythms and sharply defined riffs. Kimura played a largely comping role, though her interventions, particularly her two-handed, staccato motifs, were just as thrilling as the extended guitar, saxophone and trumpet solos. Her sketches—bar one rumbling exploration—were brief, but significant in the context of the suite as a whole, conjuring atmospheres both brooding and nostalgic.

Drum, bass and guitar carved out a twisted blues that bore Guilfoyle's signature knottiness but the music followed strikingly melodic contours for the most part, gospel-sweet at one extreme and intensely Mingus-esque at the other. To bass accompaniment, the sound of Pearse's oratory championing blood-shedding as "a cleansing and sanctifying thing" struck a chilling cord. The intense ensemble passage that ensued evoked the adrenalin and frenzy of battle that such oratory endlessly inspires. The final segment grew from a quietly celebratory motif into an anthemic ensemble chorus of beauty and power.

Even a twenty-minute interruption due to technical difficulties could not diminish the effect of the sextet's performance of what is arguably one of Guilfoyle's most arresting extended compositions. Hopefully, A Shy-Going Boy will make it onto record, take wings, and reach the wider audience it merits.

Nigel Clark & Hugh Buckley

Glasgow's Nigel Clark and Dublin's Hugh Buckley—two of the finest exponents of instrumental guitar in their respective countries—first came together at the Glasgow Jazz Festival 2013 and the story continues to unfold. With Clark on nylon string Lowden acoustic and Buckley on a solid-body Nemesis—designed and built by John Moriarty—the duo regaled the Town Hall audience with a delightful program full of lyricism and helter-skelter virtuosity that drew in the main from its recording The Day of the Duo (Self-Produced, 2013). Opening with a cheery rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Triste," the set offered up covers of jazz standards, reimaginings of Celtic folk tunes, a dash of bossa nova and a few originals for good measure.

Cole Porter's tunes featured on a couple of occasions, with "I Love You Samantha"—sung by Bing Crosby in the 1956 film High Society—played with a hushed lyricism that was in stark contrast to the duo's fiery interplay on the Buckley originals "Floren's Dance"—a Calypso-esque jaunt—and the bluesy "Urban Sprawl," from the Buckley recordings Spirit Level (2000) and Sketches of Now (2008) respectively.

Earl Zindar's "Elsa"—which became a jazz standard thanks to pianist Bill Evans's fascination with the piece over the years—was taken at a leisurely pace, as was "Sleeping Tune," a delicate interpretation of a composition by Scottish piper Gordon Duncan. At the slower tempos that such balladry dictated, the chemistry between the two guitarists was particularly keen.

The duo stepped up a couple of gears on Jerome Kern's "Nobody Else but Me," unleashing impressively fleet runs on this 1946 chestnut. But for the fact that Kern overslept after playing requests at a party, Clark informed the audience, the prolific Broadway musical composer would have boarded the ill-fated RMS Lusitania, which was sunk by a German U-boat with the loss of over a thousand lives.

A prolonged ovation brought Clark and Buckley back for an encore of Luis Bonfa's "Manhã de Carnaval" ("A Day in the Life of a Fool"), putting the seal on a highly satisfying set in some style.

Dobet Gnahore

With four albums to her name since 2004's debut, Ano Neko (2004), Dobet Gnahore is perhaps not the most prolific of recording artists, but as her stunning Mermaid Theatre concert demonstrated, she is certainly one of the most visceral. The multi-faceted artist from Ivory Coast—though based in France since the turn of the millennium—entranced the audience with her evocative songs and wildly exciting dancing, backed by an excellent pan-African band.

Gnahore cast her spell from the opening number, fusing her resonant vocals and kalimba to intoxicating effect. Ivorian drummer Mike Di Bo, Madagascan bassist Liva and Cameroonian guitarist Julien Pestre had only been together since September 2015 but they played with the cohesion of a veteran ensemble. On the bubbly "Na Dre," the title track of Gnahore's 2014 release, the singer exploded into dance that was as graceful as a Balinese classical dancer and as athletic as a ninja warrior. Not for nothing has leading world music magazine Songlines described her as "one of Africa's most dynamic performers."

Gnahore married striking melody with social consciousness on "Barra," which championed the dignity—and necessity—of honest work. Gnahore clearly knows the meaning of hard work and the singer demonstrated her percussive chops on bongos as Perstre released a cutting solo. Merengue-type grooves and driving drum rhythms led Gnahore through a wonderfully agile dance that made a seated theatre feel like entirely the wrong venue for such dance-happy music.

In past editions of Bray Jazz world music fare such as the Balkans-influenced Yurodny, Brazilian six-piece Orquestra do Fuba and Justin Adams/Juldeh Camara had crowds dancing in an unseated, after-hours venue. This was the one type of venue lacking at Bray Jazz in this edition, though that said, Gnahore's infectious personality had the crowd on its feet and dancing as best it could in the narrow space between seated rows.

Political corruption, love, and the condition and rights of African women were at the heart of much of Gnahore's songs. On the gently grooving "Zina"—the only song sung partly in English, Gnahore sang: "She is weak, she is fragile, you keep her in a cage. You take advantage of her kindness, she's the target of your rage." Otherwise, Gnahore sang in a number of African languages (she masters seven) and French, her splendid voice as powerful and as beguiling as her frequent improvised dances.

Gnahore paid tribute to Papa Wemba, the Congolese singer who passed away just a week before this concert at the age of sixty six. His fusing of rumba, soukos, Caribbean flavors and western idioms influenced the likes of Manu Dibango and Femi Kuti amongst others. Speaking in French, Gnahore gave thanks for Papa Wemba and spoke of the importance of perpetuating his great music.

The concert began as it had started with Gnahore stage-front, accompanied only by guitar, her hushed vocals gently captivating. The tempo quickened for the final encore, a melodious tune that invited an audience singalong. A rousing ovation greeted Gnahore and band and the crowd filed out of the Mermaid Theatre, with beaming smiles on every face.


The most adventurous piece of programing at Bray Jazz 2016 saw French outfit Chromb! blast The Martello with its anarchic blend of avant-garde jazz-cum-art rock. The deafening volume raised by Antoine Mermet on saxophone, keys and vocals, keyboardist Camille Durieux, drummer Leo Dumont and bassist Lucas Hercberg, however, could not disguise the serious musicianship and sophisticated arrangements, laced with a peculiarly Gallic humor.

Warped prog rock or artsy punk? Frank Zappa-esque satire or John Zorn-esque tribute? Trying to hang a name on Chrombs! music is a thankless and fairly pointless task. It was, however, impossible to remain indifferent to the music's force, which proved divisive to say the least. After the initial shock waves of the decibel-heavy, thundering rhythms of the opening number, one woman, at high speed, sought solace at the bar, exclaiming as she passed: "This is a fucking nightmare!" A small number soon exited the venue, having requested and obtained a refund on the grounds that this simply was not jazz!

The beboppers, and in turn, Ornette Coleman, the free-jazz practitioners and the jazz-fusion bands all received similar charges of musical misconduct, though one suspects that Chromb! is unlikely to take such a reaction to heart. For the majority who stayed, the synth-drenched motifs, soaring saxophone, punkish grooves and poppish hooks, wild screams and madcap humor made for a pretty irresistible cocktail. Fun yes, but in no way frivolous. Chromb!'s music was bonkers but brilliantly executed.

With several albums to its name, Chromb! remains something of an underground band, though this may change come July with the band's participation at 12 Points 2016, in San Sebastian, where international media and promotors will be faced with the dilemma—run for the nearest exit or succumb to Chrombs! visceral, intoxicating music. There is no middle way.

Day Three

During the three days of Bray Jazz 2016 multiple venues around the town resonated to jazz acts of various stripes, from Nat King Cole-esque crooners to nuanced jazz standard vocalists like Stella Bass and cutting edge instrumental jazz outfit Umbra. Bray Jazz stalwarts Edel Meade, Leopoldo Osio and Max Zaska shared the Bray Jazz Trail with newcomers Vernon Jane and CC Brez and there was an album launch gig for the guitar duo of Julien Colarossi and John Keogh, whose album Street Life (Self-Produced, 2016) was presented in its entirety at The Ocean Bar and Grill. Yet with many of the Bray Jazz Trail concerts running at the same time as the main program it was an either or choice on occasion.

Two standout shows on the Bray Jazz Trail were the hard-driving, straight-ahead trio Firm Roots (on The Harbour Stage), which featured guitarist Mike Nielsen, bassist Cormac OBrien and drummer Jerry Fehily, and the Richie Buckley Quintet in The Hibernian Inn, with drummer Shane O'Donovan, keyboardist Greg Felton, guitarist John Moriarty and—once again—bassist Cormac O'Brien joining the internationally renowned saxophonist Buckley in a roaring set loaded with bluesy bop workouts and timeless standards.

Nils Okland and Sigbjorn Apeland

Contemporary music in Norway is among the most varied and fascinating in Europe and Nils Okland and Sigbjorn Apeland are two of the leading figures. The two musicians traverse back and forth the terrain between traditional influences, and, as their recent performance in a large ensemble at Vossa Jazz 2016 demonstrated, in experimental areas too. This intimate duo gig in Bray Town Hall presented the folk, church and classical strands that inform both musicians to a significant degree.

On the opening number, over Apeland's subtle harmonium drone and counter melodies, Okland produced a haunting, somewhat plaintive melody that would have brought a tear to a hangman's eye. The tune set the tone for much of the music that followed. The first of a brace of old religious tunes filled the cosy Town Hall chamber with a vaguely mournful air, while the more uplifting second tune exhibited the ghost of the blues in the melody.

As Okland explained, in times past many Norwegian preachers traveled to America, opening themselves to the influences of that country's church music, later returning to Norway with an enlarged musical vocabulary. As the organist in Sandviken church, Bergen, hymnal music is part of Apeland's musical DNA, and this element of Norwegian tradition colored the duo's dialog to a greater or lesser degree on almost every song in the set.

An injection of rhythmic pace accompanied a pibroch, a musical form of the Scottish highlands traditionally for bagpipes but increasingly played by fiddlers—notably Bonnie Rideout—followed by a Norwegian folk tune in 6/8 that, for a brief moment, conjured images of twirling dancers. On the whole, however, the music was just a little one-paced, producing a lasting melancholy effect.

Okland and Apeland paid tribute to iconic Norwegian fiddler/composer Ole Bull (1810-1880) with the aptly titled "La Melancholie," from the duo's Homage a Ole Bull (ECM, 2011). A light waltz with a pretty melody, which Okland said was most likely attributable to Bull, was followed by a piece by Edward Grieg, who was also greatly influenced by Bull's adaptations of folk music.

A newly minted number inspired by a walk around the Bray headland underlined the spontaneous nature of folkloric composition, while a surprisingly melancholic Norwegian wedding march underlined the continuity of tradition. For the encore, the duo lifted the tempo and the mood a tad with a pretty tune by Okland that wasn't a million miles away from an Irish air. Apeland's closing harmonium embellishment placed a hymnal seal on a timeless folk tune and a memorable recital.

Kenny Werner Trio

Prior to his headlining gig in the Mermaid Theatre, Kenny Werner presented his world-renowned Effortless Mastery masterclass, which he last gave in Ireland at the Sligo Jazz Project 2013. With an emphasis on playing as opposed to striving or impressing, Werner's inspiring talk will no doubt have struck a profound cord with the musicians present in the theatre.

Werner's philosophy about music was much in evidence during the evening concert, with Ari Hoenig and Johannes Weidenmueller equal partners in a mesmerizing exhibition of the art of the piano trio. The simplicity with which Werner addressed the opening bars of the Richard Rogers/Lorenz Hart tune "With a Song in My Heart," gradually teasing out more ornate phrases, indeed seemed effortless. With Hoenig, whether on brushes or sticks, the rhythms were pushed and pulled continually, his bass drum and cymbal accents responding to and cajoling Werner. Weidenmueller provided the fulcrum, his solid grooves keeping the ship steady at all times.

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.


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.


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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