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Bray Jazz Festival 2018

Ian Patterson By

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Bray Jazz Festival
Various Venues
Bray, Ireland
May 4-6, 2018

From the hilltop vantage point the Irish Sea lies veiled under a blanket of thick mist. Greystones, five miles to the right, birthplace of the great Christy Doran, peeks out, seemingly floating above the misty clouds like a Roger Dean gatefold. Away to the left, across rocky fields studded with yellow heather, a giant cross marks Bray Head—a pilgrimage site for many during this May holiday weekend. Down below, facing the Irish Sea longer than any other town in Ireland, lies Bray, itself an annual destination for pilgrims of another kind -jazz musicians and their followers.

Bray Jazz Festival returned for its nineteenth year with perhaps its strongest international programme to date, selling out the main theatre three nights in a row and drawing good crowds to the smaller venues around town for the numerous fringe events on the Wicklow Wolf Trail. The wolf logo of the local micro-brewery stands out from the BJF's sponsors' banner, but it's the twenty three sponsors' logos in their totality, from transport systems to hotels, from embassies to arts-funding bodies, from restaurants and bars to the tourism office and national media that hint at how many people are crucial to the staging of the BJF and how much juggling festival directors Dorothy and George Jacob are required to do to pull it off year after year. And pull it off in style they manage to do every year.

BJF 2018 saw heavyweight American and European jazz names such as Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas, Bobo Stenson and Ernst Reijseger line up alongside some of the best in Irish jazz/improvised music—Tommy Halferty, Linley Hamilton, Cora Venus Lunny and Colm O'Hara. There were outstanding solo acts of uncommon lyricism in Daniel Herskedal and Laura Perrudin Quartet, coruscating experimental jazz from New York in the form of Ingrid Laubrock's Anti-House and Jim Black's quartet, and vocal jazz/R&B from China Moses.

The Irish jazz/related music scene in all its diversity was represented on the Harbour Stage and in the multiple venues of the Wicklow Wolf Jazz Trail. Singers Riona Sally Hartman and Aoife Doyle, Chris Guilfoyle 's quintet Umbra, jazz-punk outfit Vernon Jane, veteran guitarists Mike Nielsen and Hugh Buckley, the acoustic guitar duo of Julien Colarossi and John Keogh, solo piano from Leopoldo Osio, the electronic/experimental soundscapes of Daniel Jacobsen's Zoid—amongst others—represented just the tip of the Irish jazz iceberg.

And, after a winter that seemed to last for about seven months, the sun finally visited this small corner of the planet, putting smiles on everybody's faces for the traditional holiday weekend.

Day One

Cora Venus Lunny & Colm O'Hara

Bray's Town Hall was the intimate venue for the opening concert of BJF 2018. Violinist Cora Venus Lunny is equally at home in classical, Irish folk and experimental music and is a captivating solo performer as her solo recording Terminus (Conscientae) (Diatribe Records, 2014) demonstrated. Colm O'Hara's background is more rooted in jazz, having played with Dave Liebman, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Tim Berne and Bobo Stenson, though his work with Thought Fox, ReDivideDer and Yurodny points to more eclectic tastes. Both musicians are fine improvisers as this three-part suite of improvised dialog proved.

Lunny had shown fiery improvisational chops alongside Izumi Kimura at the inaugural BAN BAM festival in Dublin the previous December but this performance with O'Hara was, for the most part, a more brooding, meditative affair, spiked with the occasional edgy, potent exchanges. Lunny dealt pizzicato riffs and rising-falling legato phrasing, while O'Hara's undulating drones, oddly strangled voicing and bass profundo growls offered contrasting colors.

At times the duo was locked in harmonious unison, at other times each pursued separate yet parallel courses, the intense concentration etched in their body language. At their most expansive Lunny and O'Hara's dialog flowed compellingly, but the music was just as engaging when at its most minimal—the duo conjuring darkly cinematic soundscapes.

At just under forty five minutes this was a short set by conventional standards but for improvised conversations as emotionally intense as these, this was a generous offering from two progressively minded musicians who surely have more stories to tell together.

China Moses

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