Bray Jazz Festival 2015

Ian Patterson By

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Good musicians begin with hearing more than one thing at the same time —Pete Churchill
Bray Jazz Festival 2015
Various Venues
Bray, Ireland
May 1-3, 2015

Sunshine and squall. The sun and the clouds chased each other's tails throughout the May Bank Holiday weekend of the Bray Jazz Festival. In a way the weather mirrored the music—a pleasingly eclectic, bracing mixture—and the fortunes of the festival itself, which has been buffeted by the recent storms of funding cuts, yet remains unbowed.

In spite of a reduced budget and a program tailored accordingly, Bray Jazz 2015 did what it has done every year for the past sixteen editions—that's to say, it brought the charming seaside town of Bray to life with a smorgasbord of jazz and related music.

For three days Bray's pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels heaved with Bank Holiday revellers enjoying dozens of free gigs, while the main program unfolded with some truly memorable performances in the Town Hall and Mermaid Arts Centre.

Day One

Francesco Turrisi & The Taquín Experiments

The Taquín Experiments is a modular ensemble led by Bray-based Italian Francesco Turrisi, which operates as a trio, quartet and sextet, or with whatever number of instruments can be mustered to the cause. This Town Hall concert was the first run-out in this format with saxophonist Nick Roth and cellist Kate Ellis rounding out the trio, though the three performed here as part of the Irish/Mediterranean folk ensemble Tarab during a memorable performance at Bray Jazz 2009.

Turrisi's 1950s Wurlitzer relayed baroque hymnal hues and jazz improvisation, before the slowly hypnotic motif of "Grigio" unfurled over Ellis' languid lines and Roth's keening soprano. Another Wurlitzer motif introduced John Zorn's "Hadasha," as lilting melodies bled into pockets of dissonance. The seamless transition from classical European church music to Middle Eastern lament was followed by "Hanukkah," Roth's haunting, lullaby-esque arrangement inspired by the Jewish Festival of Lights.

A celebratory Turkish melody and an equally heady Macedonian traditional tune rubbed shoulders with an Armenian ballad of aching lyricism. The Taquín Experiments may be inspired by pan-Mediterranean roots music but its untraditional approach was punctuated by bustling tenor, cello drone and Turrisi's psychedelic keyboard wizardry.

An untitled original by Turrisi—a spinning waltz of Eastern European origin—closed an absorbing set. For the encore, the trio played "Nel Mezzo" from Songs of Experience (Taquín Records, 2013), a beguiling tune of overlapping melodies. The Taquín Experiments has yet to record but with music so heartfelt and so universal it surely must.

Pete Churchill & Dublin City Jazz Orchestra, featuring Lauren Kinsella and Laura Jurd

It was a tale of two halves at the Mermaid Arts Centre with the Dublin City Jazz Orchestra. The first of its two sets served up jazz standards by Thelonious Monk ("Well You Needn't), Thad Jones ("Big Dipper"), Neal Hefti/Count Basie ("Li'l Darlin'") and Oliver Nelson ("Hoe Down"), amongst others. Swinging, bluesy and featuring a series of excellent soloists, the DCJO mightn't have thrown too many curve balls but as repertoire bands go it's about as good as they come.

Conductor Pete Churchill picked up the reins for the second set, leading the DCJO through the late Kenny Wheeler's The Sweet Time Suite. Churchill and the DCJO had a bit or previous, having performed Duke Ellington's Sacred Concert at the Limerick Jazz Festival 2014. Few know the ropes of Wheeler's music as well as Churchill, having led the Kenny Wheeler Big Band for years, been a member of Wheeler's vocal project and conducted the KWBB on the tour to celebrate the trumpeter's 80th birthday.

Wheeler was known for his economy of words, as Churchill reminded the audience: "He was a very humble man. He famously said, 'I don't say much and when I do I don't say much.' "Kenny Wheeler said so much with his music," Churchill added, "that had he spoken as well he'd have been exhausted."

Lauren Kinsella and Laura Jurd superbly reprised the roles of Norma Winstone and Wheeler respectively in a triumphant ensemble display. Jurd perhaps enjoyed more solo time than the original score dictated, but Wheeler would doubtless have been impressed by his young deputy, who played with passion and confidence. Kinsella sang like another horn on the ensemble parts and seduced during her solo flights.




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