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Bray Jazz Festival 2014

Ian Patterson By

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Another dirge, "Lonesome Road" evoked the faintly ghostly atmosphere of the tile theme to the film "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Mac Erlaine, solo, switched to baritone saxophone on new number, alternating between lilting melody and growls like an ocean liner's fog horn. The infectious, clap-along, pop-centric shuffle of "Woo Dr. Hythm" was followed, oddly enough, by a short discourse on beards and a meditative solo fiddle turn by Ó Raghallaigh. A mesmerizing set concluded with "What What What," another melodically memorable tune of undulating rhythms.

This Is How We Fly spice folkloric traditions in a manner that is utterly seductive. It will be fascinating to follow this quartet's singular path.

Without time to draw breath, take a leak, grab a cup of coffee or even talk about the gig it was a quick dash over the road to the Mermaid Center for day two's headliner, the Marius Neset Quartet. Norwegian Neset has built a reputation as one of the most innovative and exciting saxophonists in Europe with several outstanding releases in recent years.

It was the title track of Birds (Edition Records, 2013) that opened the show. Pianist Ivo Neame, bassist Petter Eldh, drummer Anton Eger and Neset eased out of the blocks with the kind of intuitive interplay associated with saxophonist Wayne Shorter's quartet. This quiet intro merely set the scene for the breathless sonic assault that followed. If any in the audience had questioned the hype surrounding Neset, the following ten or so minutes will have blown such doubts away as he demonstrated rare virtuosity married with tremendous musicality. Originally composed for saxophone and flute, Neset recorded "Birds" with a large ensemble and remarkably it lost none of its power in the hands of Neset's first-rate quartet.

A brand new song entitled "Pinball" followed, with Neset switching between tenor and soprano either side of a wonderful, tumbling solo from Neame. The pianist and Neset combined in a balladic exchange before the quartet ratcheted up the tension several notches on "Boxer," a number of barreling energy that featured explosive drumming from the effervescent Eger.

After a short break, Neset introduced another new track, a charging feature for tenor which blurred the lines between sinewy composed lines and continuously-unfolding improvisation. "Sane" from Golden Xplosion (Edition Records, 2011) revealed Neset the balladeer, caressing the melody like Jan Garbarek; Neame's under the radar intervention gradually steered the piece into more restless territory, laying the ground for a quartet passage of Frank Zappa-esque knottiness that unknotted itself in a riotous romp between Neset and Eger. An exhilarating set climaxed with the anthemic "Angel of the North," with melody holding the high ground over virtuosity.

Neset is an extraordinary talent. No yet thirty, it whets the appetite to think what music lies ahead. Kudos to the BJF, which continues to host the best of Norway's bottomless pool of artistic talent, and to the Norwegian Embassy for its ongoing sponsorship and support of the BJF. In recent years, the Mathias Eick Quartet, the Tord Gustavsen Trio, Mari Kvien Brunvoll and Trygve Seim & Frode Haltle, and Mats Eilertsen Skydive have all graced the festival. Neset's stunning performance at BJF 2014, however, may well be the pick of the bunch.

Bray on a Bank Holiday weekend is a lively spot. Weekenders from Dublin and tourists fill the town's accommodation and the packed bars and pubs ring with high spirits. On a Saturday night of the weekend, The Martello is teeming with diners and party-goers. Music in the back of the bar is little more than background music, which is a pity when the band is as good as Metric Electric. The quartet of drummer Cote Calmet, keyboard player Darragh O'Ceallaigh, bassist Peter Erdei and saxophonist Tom Caraher hasn't been together for long but its hard-grooving take on material by saxophonists Chris Potter, Joshua Redman and trumpeter Roy Hargrove was absolutely riveting. It was also a breath of fresh air to hear a band look to jazz's modern icons for its inspiration, rather than just trot out in formulaic fashion the same old standards that have been doing the rounds for the past seven or so decades.

Day Three

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the BJF is the involvement of so many of the town's pubs, restaurants and hotels. There's a real feel that the festival belongs to the town, and that's how it should be. The latest venue to open its doors to jazz was The Harbour Bar, one of the town's most iconic watering holes. Sunday afternoon saw Czech singer Zeurítia entertain a packed Harbor Bar with a selection of bossa nova standards, sung in Portuguese.

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