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Bray Jazz Festival 2017

Ian Patterson By

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Bassist Stewart Wilson's fast-walking rhythm guided "Jazzwalk," a number of Ellingtonian ambition featuring biting solos from saxophonist Ollie Dover and guitarist Anton Hunter, the latter who brought a rock-inspired edge to the mix. One of the strengths of BAPBB's sound lay in the individual voices that Cottrell's writing capitalized upon. Pianist Richard Jones delivered an achingly lyrical unaccompanied solo that segued into "Tone"—a roaring ensemble number that embraced traditions both old-school and modern.

Hunter's metal bow on strings fashioned the ethereal opening to "Havmann," an epic number that grew and receded in a collective show of tension and release. In the quietest passage, of jazz quartet intimacy, trumpeter Graham South carved out a measured, compelling solo, the ensemble voice gradually rising around and engulfing his solo in a powerful show of force. Another highlight came with a delightfully slow-grooving version of the late David Bowie's "Let's Dance," which initially couldn't but help sounding like a lament, even though it was recorded the year before Bowie's passing. Once the drums kicked in, however, it soon became a rousing celebration, finishing with the iconic motif sounded by the trumpets.

A dose of jazz-funk culminating in a riotous drum solo from Panter and more contemporary arrangements, equal parts rollicking collective voice and individual virtuosity, rounded out the set. For the encore, Cottrell's beautiful arrangements for brass on the poignant ballad "Fairytale" conjured the majesty of England's colliery brass bands. The concert finished on a more visceral note, Hunter's Jimi Hendrix-esque riff and subsequent blues-rock solo igniting the collective fuse one more time.

If BAPBB's stonking, full-blooded performance at BJF 2017 performance was anything to go by, then the new album and accompanying tour will be something to look forward to. Modern big band music has rarely sounded this vital.

Pilgrim

It was a quick dash down Bray's high street to The Well to catch Swiss band Pilgrim. If the ethereal chamber jazz of the opening track "Falling" suggested a sedate, cerebral concert was in store then this notion was gradually dispelled as saxophonist Christopher Irniger, pianist Stefan Aeby, guitarist Dave Gisler bassist Raffaele Bossard and drummer Michi Stulz mounted an animated attack—with a telling solo from Gisler—which, whilst feeling tightly orchestrated, gave the impression that it could go anywhere.

Aeby's plucked piano strings and Gisler's deft pedal board manipulation created a spacey atmosphere on the epic "Big Wheel." Bass and percussive rustling underpinned Irniger's softly lilting melody, the contrasts between edgy and soothing growing as bass and drums gathered momentum. The dynamic shifts crept up almost surreptitiously, but the unfolding contrasts between collective charge, intimate piano trio segment, searching saxophone and guitar improvisations, and rhythmic and melodic mantra, were as compelling as they were unpredictable.

The concert concluded with two tracks from Italian Circus; ruminative piano, rumbling mallets and bass, melodious saxophone and shimmering guitar colored the first half of "Back in The Game," a slow groove developing in the second half dominated by Aeby's delicately forged solo. "Entering The Concert Hall," by way of contrast, was founded on more robust rhythms, with Stulz and Bossard integral to the elastic sense of time. There were free-spirited solos from Aabey and Irniger before the quintet united on the final stretch, finishing, appropriately, as one voice.

Pilgrim's fine performance worked a balance between artful construction and looser freedoms that clearly struck a chord with the audience. One of the highlights of Bray Jazz 2017.

Day Three

CEO Experiment

Day three of BJF 2017 coincided with International Jazz Day, so it was fitting that the day's program should begin with the pan-national, Dublin-based quartet CEO Experiment. What began three years ago as a trio comprised of Peruvian drummer Cote Calmet, Venezuelan pianist/keyboardist Leopoldo Osio and Hungarian electric bassist Peter Erdei, has become a quartet with the addition of Dublin saxophonist Michael Buckley.

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