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Bray Jazz Festival 2014

Ian Patterson By

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Curiously, the set overlooked Cantuária most recent recording, the beautiful Indio De Apartamento (Naïve, 2013), but with a large back catalog dating back thirty years the singer had more than enough gold to mine. In a performance that ebbed and flowed artfully, shimmering bossa and gently jazzified samba rubbed shoulders with the more vibrant rhythms of son Cubano, trans-Atlantic blues and rock-edged jazz.

Cantuária paid double homage to Antonio Carlos Jobim, first on a beautiful version of "Retrato Em Bianco E Preto" and then on the haunting "Esse Seu Olhar, the latter one of several tracks from Sol Na Cara (Gramavision, 1996). The quartet flexed its improvisational muscles on singer-songwriter/guitarist Gilberto Gil's "Procissao"—a version close to that imaginatively reworked by Cantuária with guitarist Bill Frisell's on The Intercontinentals (Nonesuch Records, 2003), a wonderful, yet short-lived project; here, the quartet eased into an extended jam with Alves impressing on a jazz-inflected piano solo.

The Frisell connection was also present on two seductive, ballads: "Mi Declaración," from Cantuária and Frisell's Lagrimas Mexicanas (E1, 2011), and "Berlin" from Samba Carioca (101 DISTRIBUTION), an album which featured Frisell as well as pianist Brad Mehldau. Cantuária's hushed vocals—poetic in tone—and his caressing guitar lines were given beautifully sympathetic support by Socolow, Alves, and Santos on brushes.

Cuban son colored the energetic "Cubanos Postizos," while the up-tempo "Rio"—co-penned by singer David Byrne—ended the set with further jazzy improvisation. The inevitable encores served up a funky, guitar-driven version of "So Danco Samba" with Santos and Socolaw tapping the rhythms on small tamborims.

In a review of Silva (Rykodisc, 2005) in The Guardian, John L. Walters wrote of Cantuária: "If more people covered his songs, we'd be talking about him as the new Tom Jobim." Walters' was no facile comparison; Cantuária's melting lyricism, his subtle hues and songwriting sophistication have long marked him out as one of the most arresting of contemporary artists, as this delightful concert bore out.

Day Two

Day two of BJF 2014 kicked off with an afternoon showcase of three bands at The Royal Hotel. These free concerts have been a popular fixture for many years and this year was no exception, with the hall packed with festival goers, casual drop-in tourists and curious hotel guests. Guitarist Hugh Buckley, a veteran of the Irish jazz scene and the multi-national, Dublin-based group Karovka stood at opposite ends of the jazz spectrum, the former's classic quintet sound contrasting with the classical, folk and contemporary textures of quartet Kavorka.

Singer Edel Meade gave a polished performance of Joni Mitchell's songs, accompanied by guitarist Dick Farrelly. The Joni Project—due to be recorded in Denmark at the time of writing—has received Mitchell's blessing, and Meade's affection for early-career Mitchell was evident as the duo waltzed through up-tempo fare like "In France They Kiss On Main Street," "Al I Want" and "Big Yellow Taxi." However, it was on the slower numbers that Meade's appealing voice was heard to best effect, notably on "Woodstock," "A Case of You," "Blue Motel Room" and the bluesy "Centerpiece."

With the exception of "At Last"—the Mack Gordon/Harry Warren track popularized by singer Etta James—from Mitchell's orchestral concept/covers album Both Sides Now (Reprise, 2000), Meade's focus was on Mitchell's work up until Hejira (Asylum, 1976). Meade's vocal range suits Mitchell's early work and she had no problem reaching Mitchell's quasi-falsetto pitch on these fairly faithful interpretations, but the smoky gravitas of latter-day Mitchell may be as yet beyond her grasp. Meade and Farelly's set was warmly received by the crowd and it will be interesting to see how Meade molds this material with a full band on the forthcoming recording.

BJF 2013 saw the introduction of an educational workshop to the program and a new venue, The Well. Though it sounds like another great Bray drinking den, The Well is in fact a church. There's nothing particularly New Age about it either, it has pews, a pulpit, stained glass windows and a pastor. Last year Scottish saxophone quartet Brass Jaw gave a rousing session on group interplay and improvisation and this year it was the turn of trumpeter Dave Douglas to inspire those assembled for his workshop. And inspire he did.

"Each of us has a unique viewpoint on music," Douglas told the small but attentive gathering, "but how do you tap into that and play something that you can call your own?" From the outset Douglas coaxed and encouraged the attendees to voice their concerns, understand them better and take steps to dealing with them.

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