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Bray Jazz Festival 2014

Ian Patterson By

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Backed by fellow countryman, guitarist Peter Moc and local stalwarts Tommy Gray on drums and bassist Cormac O'Brien, Zeurítia won over the crowd with a version of Irish folk anthem "The Fields of Athenry." Gray and O'Brien—as solid as Bray Head throughout and as lively as the wind that dances around its peak—buoyed Zeurítia with their rhythmic guile during an enjoyable set. The acoustics of the Harbor Stage were marvelous, making for a very pleasing listening experience and the cozy, shoulder to shoulder ambiance of the room added to the friendly intimacy of the gig. In the adjoining and larger of the Harbor Bar's several bars a traditional Irish session was in full swing as the beer pumps flowed. With a glass of your favorite tipple to hand there are few better ways to spend an hour or two in Bray on the Bank Holiday weekend and the success of the Harbor Stage during BJF 2014 should cement its place as one of the festival's essential venues.

These days the majority of jazz festivals both large and small have followed the suit of the Montreux Jazz Festival in adopting a more liberal programming policy. The punters are the lifeblood of any festival and if a little musical cross-dressing does the trick then there's not much wrong with the odd indie-rock act, a singer-songwriter here and there or a touch of World Music.

Cross-polination is increasingly the norm in jazz and these days the musics of the world meet in myriad colorful fusions. The lines between jazz and so-called World Music are less distinct, not only in the music itself but also on festival bills. At the 2013 WOMEX (World Music Expo) Paul Augustin, Director of the Penang Island Jazz Festival was invited to give a paper entitled "Crossing Borders: Programming World Music Artists in Asian Jazz Festivals" and for the first time there was a small jazz program at WOMEX. Simply put, musical diversification is an economic necessity for most jazz festivals, but as can be seen from the example of WOMEX, savvy jazz musicians can also benefit from the growing market in World Music.

Certainly all who witnessed the concert of sister and brother Joyeeta and Debajyoti Sanyal at the Town Hall on Sunday will not only have forgiven George and Dorothy Jacob this programming incursion into Indian classical music, but will count themselves truly blessed. Sitarist Joyeeta and tablaist Debajyoti are world-class Indian classical musicians and this concert, courtesy of the Indian Classical Music Society of Ireland, was a true gem.

With Yameena Mitha and Sadanand Magee providing constant harmonic drones on tanpura, the Sanyal's embarked on a fifty-minute raga—an epic love story in essence—of breathtaking poetry. From achingly tender passages to thrilling charges, the emotive language, shifting rhythmic contours and jaw-dropping virtuosity of their dialog captivated the Town Hall audience. A brief retuning session allowed pause for breath before the quartet played a much shorter lyrical piece, which after the stormy intensity of the opening raga was as sweet as a spring shower. A playful encore, impressive despite its brevity, wrapped up a stunning concert that raised the spirits.

Though Dave Douglas and pianist Uri Caine's concert was delayed to allow punters to make their way from Joyeeta and Debajyoti Sanyal's concert, a half hour pause wouldn't have gone amiss. After such a transcendent performance some time is needed to digest and linger over the experience, to chat with others who have shared that experience and even to talk to the musicians. Or go to the toilet. Either way, BJF might consider the upside of leaving a half hour gap between the two evening concerts in future editions.

Douglas and Caine share a penchant for experimentation and this particular project was no exception, though the duo's collaboration wasn't so much an experiment of setting as a journey into little explored repertoire. Their set drew from early North American folk music around which they shaped their fascinating dialog. The duo opened with a medley of songs dating from the early 1700s. It was hard to know whether the European folk, church and classical hues that colored these tunes were part of their original DNA or part of the duo's own vocabulary—probably a little of both.

In addition, the duo played original tunes especially written for this project, all of which will see the light on a forthcoming CD. In a concert bursting with folksy melody, hymnal lyricism and individual brilliance there was also room for levity; Douglas' wonderfully original tune "End to End" consisted only of phrases tailored to sound like endings. In the duo's almost slapstick unison and contrapuntal lines there was tremendous technical precision and mighty big ears.

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