Bray Jazz Festival
May 3-5, 2019
The May Bank Holiday weekend is always a festive occasion in Bray, but this year was of particular note as the Bray Jazz Festival
celebrated its twentieth anniversary. Founded by Dorothy and George Jacob in response to a government call for projects to commemorate the new millennium, Bray Jazz Festival has earned a reputation in its first two decades as one of the finest boutique jazz festivals in Europe.
Bray Jazz Festival's success lies chiefly in the quality of its programming, which, as BJF's directors Dorothy and George Jacob acknowledged in an interview with All About Jazz
, has been steered artistically since the beginning by Improvised Music Company
foremost in the field of jazz/improvised music promotion in Ireland.
Many of the most important jazz musicians from both sides of the Atlantic have graced BJF over the years and this year was no exception, with headliners representing traditions from straight-ahead jazz, soul and blues to ECM chamber intimacy. Fittingly too, the twentieth BJF featured one gig that simply wouldn't have been possibleor perhaps even imaginable two decades ago.
Yes, just as the passing away of artists who have illuminated previous editions of BJF, such as Andrew Hill
and Tomasz Stanko
, or the arrival of fresh new talent such as Marius Neset or Laura Jurd
, have marked the passage of time, so too have technological advancements in instrumentation, the manipulation of sound and an ever-wider sonic vocabulary at musicians' disposal.
BJF 2019 was perhaps more stylistically diverse than ever before, more surprising and more provocative. It was, in many respects, a weekend to remember.
Indrė Jurgelevicuite & Kadialy Kouyate
It was on a sad note that BJF 2019 got underway, with ill health preventing Senegalese kora maestro Solo Cissokho from teaming up with Lithuanian kanklės player Indrė Jurgelevicuite. Their duo album Solo & Indrė
(One Root, 2017) was a delightful affirmation of Afro- European musical affinities, and the intimacy of Bray Town Hall would have been the perfect setting for their musical dialogues. However, from problems arise opportunities, and replacement kora player Kadialy Kouyate did not disappoint. Unfamiliar with each other's compositions, the two musicians each played a forty-minute solo set.
The kanklės is a zither-like instrument dating from the sixteenth century, variants of which are common throughout the Baltic states. The name is believed by some linguists to mean 'singing tree.' Whether accurate or not, the poetry in such a derivation fitted nicely with the ethereal soundsplucked, mediated and sungby Jurgelevicuite in Bray Town Hall. She began by wishing Solo Cissokho a speedy recovery before launching into a programme of Lithuanian pre-Christian folk songs inspired by nature.
The spirits of flowers, stones and animals, and the connectivity between people and nature inherent to animism, Jurgelevicuite explained, lay at the heart of her songs. A fine voice, unadorned by vibrato, complimented her exquisite playinggently lulling on one hand, subtly uplifting on the other. Aided by a tiny electric whisker on one number and two resonating devices on another, all of which widened the sonic possibilities of the kanklės' strings, Jurgelevicuite wedded modern technology to Medieval craftsmanship to beautiful effect.
A song about a garden in winter where rabbits' legs are too short to jump in the snow was followed by another describing two flowers competing for beauty stakes. On the latter, Jurgelevicuite's simple plucking and plaintively sung melody were not a million miles away from West African kora tradition. Resonator drone underscored a haunting vocal number where the kanklės was subdued, Jurgelevicuite intermittently releasing soft cries, bird-like then yearning, through cupped hands.
The recorded voice of one of Jurgelevicuite's vocal teachersan elderly villager whom she described as a repository of traditional folk songsintroduced a lilting song of magic realism, whereby a beautiful young girl shapeshifts to escape the amorous intentions of an older man. For the encore, Jurgelevicuite sang of a shepherd hurrying his flock so he can return to his family, her yearning vocal and swirling arpeggios combining dreamily.
No sooner had the applause faded for Jurgelevicuite than Kadialy Kouyate took to the floor, there being no elevated stage in the Town Hall chamber. For the past decade Kouyate has taught kora at London's SOAS, and has gained a world-wide reputation as a virtuoso performer, even enjoying a taste of global chart success on Mumford and Sons/Baaba Maal's 2016 collaboration "There Will Be Time."
Mainly presenting songs from Na Kitabo
(KKSOUND ARCHIVE, 2016), Kouyate began with thoughts for Solo Cissokho before launching into "Peace," his warm, earthy voice alternating with brief rushes of tumbling notes. Fascinating Kouyate's technique, whether engaged in flowing two-handed polyphony or pursuing more measured lead melody with rhythmic accompaniment. His captivating solo on "Hope," conjured dashing flamenco and soulful desert blues, and his poetic evocation of the heaven's opening on the intro to "Rain," proved to be set highlights.
Yet at the heart of Kouyate's music was the song itself. For all the spellbinding qualities of his kora playing it would be no great leap of the imagination to imagine these tunes sung unaccompanied; titles such as "Rain," "True Love," "Modesty" and "Pray for Love"a new songwere suggestive of timeless oral traditions, and in these most turbulent times, something of a personal manifesto from this most lyrical Senegalese griot, for a better world.
A festival director's lot is not always an easy one. "Everything is great as long as everything is going fine," festival co-director George Jacob told the audience gathered in the Mermaid Arts Centre for the evening's headliner. Unfortunately, at very short notice, Fred Hersch
was forced to cancel this and several other dates of his European tour due to illness. Bray Jazz Festival, however, has never cancelled a show in twenty years, and with Hersch's help, managed to secure the services of Marc Copland
another major exponent of jazz piano of the past forty years.
In a set dedicated to Hersch's speedy recovery, Copland began with Scott LaFaro
's impressionistic and quietly majestic "Jade Visions," one of the last tunes the bassist wrote before his death in a car crash in 1961, aged twenty-five. Copland owes something of a debt to pianist Bill Evans, though like Hersch, has evolved his own distinctive sound. Copland's "Day and Night" highlighted the pianist's complex weave of rhythmic and melodic lines, his left hand constantly stirring as his right flowed freely.
Copland's improvisations, circuitous yet assured, unpredictable yet melodically grounded, had a hypnotic effect, pulling the listener in for the duration. The pianist's personal stamp, however, was just as marked on the most familiar of tunes, such as Rodgers & Hammerstein's "My Favorite Things," immortalized in the jazz cannon by John Coltrane
's epic renditions. Copland's slow reading was almost classical in character, though imbued with eerie, dark tones. "Vignette," from Gary
(Illusions Music, 2019), paid tribute to long-term collaborator Gary Peacock
, with the pianist steering the bassist's tune through abstract turns to more melodically defined, yet still challenging terrain.
The late John Abercrombie
's "Ralph's Piano Waltz" saw Copland at his most inventive, his melodic variations tightly bound to a pronounced rhythmic pulse, giving the impression of control and freedom in tandem. Copland's set was perhaps tilted in favor of impressionism and abstractionwith a strong rhythmic current nevertheless ever- presentso it came as a resolution of sorts when he encored with "Love Theme from Spartacus," Alex North's much-covered composition from Stanley Kubrick's film Spartacus
(1960). Copland's Satie-esque interpretation of the bitter-sweet melody closed an emotionally intense performance on a reflective, gently blues-tinged note.
The brilliantly illuminated stained-glass window in The Wellthe refurbished Cornerstone Churchformed a striking backdrop to Fire!, the Swedish trio of Mats Gustafsson
, Johan Berthling
and Andreas Werliin
. The illumination came from a spotlight discreetly set in the graveyard before the church, adding an appropriately gothic edge to the trio's dark, industrial jazz-grunge.
Festival goers were conspicuous on Bray High Street, hurrying with intent from Copland's gig in the Mermaid to catch Fire!, gigs which overlapped by a few minutes. The impact of suddenly entering Fire!'s raucous sonic world, particularly with Copland's lyrical reading of "The Love Theme from Spartacus" still running inside the mind, was akin to entering a church service only to find Lemmy at the pulpit, stage-smoke curling around him, as Motorhead strike up "Ace of Spades."
There was indeed something Lemmy-like in Berthling's metal-heavy ostinato on "The Hands," the title track from the band's eighth album
-a gruff-edged intensity that was at the heart of the music in general. Gustaffson's growling baritone saxophone spun off the bass riff , his unhurried phrasing punctuated by overblowing squeals and howls. All the while Berthling's unswerving bass ostinato and Werliin's driving skin and cymbal pulses drove Gustafsson on, his freedom contrasting with the mantra-like rhythm. More striking still were Gustafsson's braying, rasping cries and machine-gun punctuation on the slow dirge, "When her Lips Collapsed," built once more on a relentless bass riff.
Gustafsson's intermittent electronic sound-scaping altered the group dynamics, but much of the tension in the trio came, paradoxically, from Werliin's relevant restraint; when Gustafsson was in full flight on baritoneoccasionally switching to tenor or bass saxophonesthe expectation of equally ferocious drum fusillades was ever-present, and yet, Werliin, for the most part, stuck to uncluttered rhythmic patterns. Together with Berthling's minimalist grooves, drummer and bassist formed a doomy, rock-solid platform that permitted Gustafsson plenty of space to roam, akin, in a more bullish way, to saxophonist Nik Turner's free-jazz improvisations in Hawkwind's psychedelic rock heyday of the early 1970s.
The slow, circular riff of "Up and Down" signaled the home stretch, with some final fireworks before the trio locked together on a punchy motif that eventually dissolved. Lemmy, you feel, would have loved Fire!
Connor Guilfoyle Octet
On the Harbour Stage of the Harbour Bar, veteran drummer/bandleader Connor Guilfoyle led an octet of some of Dublin's finest through a vibrant set of classic jazz tunes. "Ellingtonesque"a convincing pastichesat alongside compositions by Tadd Dameron
and Gerry Mulligan
, the arrangements inspired by Dave Pell
, whose 1950s octet included Pepper Adams
, Benny Carter
, Art Pepper
and future film score composer, John Williams.
In a fine collective performance, there was plenty of room for soloists to shine, with alto saxophonist Yuzaha O Halloran, tenor saxophonist Peter Dobai
and trumpeter Bill Blackmore especially notable. Memorable, the octet's interpretation of all-rounder Chris Byar's highly original arrangement of "Over the Rainbow," whereby the melody slowly filtered through the intertwined voices. The crowd in the Harbour Bar voiced its approval with loud applause and cheers. Guilfoyle, who leads a number of outfits, rocked BJF a few years ago with his Latin jazz ensemble. An indefatigable figure on the Irish jazz scene, BJF is always the richer for his presence, whatever line-up he happens to be leading.
Greg Felton Trio
Saturday began where Sunday finished off, with a gig on the Harbour Stage. Greg Felton
, backed by drummer Sean Carpio
and bassist Damian Evans
, entertained a lively Harbour Bar crowd with a set of originals, standards and improvised pieces. Widely regarded as one of Ireland's leading jazz pianists, Felton served early notice of his virtuosity and musicality with a beautiful solo on "Rum," a dancing Latin-jazz number driven by Evans' infectious groove and Carpio's inventive bustle. Carpio cut loose over an extended piano vamp towards the end, reveling in the freedom. It was a stonking opener that set the tone for the set as a whole.
An improvised piece took the trio in a more abstract direction, though the evident chemistry in the trio's push-and-pull was such that only the absence of a discernible melodic thread betrayed the free form that unfolded. Gradually, however, Felton's fingers tapped into a melodic seam, out of which emerged Charlie Parker
's "Moose the Mooch." Evans and Carpio leapt aboard and hitched a ride as the pianist's adrenaline kicked in, leading the way with a delightfully flowing solo, full of Parker's customary blues.
A couple of Felton originals rounded out the set. The elegant "Regarding Time," dedicated to Andrew Hill
, the great Afro-American pianist, who graced the Bray Jazz Festival back in 2006, smoldered just above ballad tempo, with the meditative mood trumping individualism. "Good Friday," on the other hand, as any good script writer could have predicted, packed a swinging punch, with a killer motif serving as launching pad for Felton's most animated soloing of an impressive set. A studio document following a similar blueprint would likely bring Felton's talented trio to a wider public.
Over the first twenty years of BJF, Bray Town Hall has hosted more-folk oriented music than jazz, varying in its degree of modernity and experimentation. Chinese pipa, hurdy gurdy, electronic-filtered harp, custom-built guitar, solo fiddle, classical Indian, chamber saxophone quartets, for example, have brought flavors other than jazzthough no less adventurousto appreciative, open-minded audiences.
As its point of departure, four-piece French band No Tongues took inspiration from a triple CD of field recordings of voices entitled Voices of the World
(Le Chant du Monde, 1996). The idea was to respond musically to these voicesto play
the voices. This notion of vocalization through instrumentation is common to jazz and jazz parlance, and yet despite No Tongues' saxophone, trumpet, two double basses and elements of improvisation, its music sounds little like jazz. Or anything else, for that matter.
A laptop relayed singing voices, recorded between 1966 and 1994, of Aka pygmies from the Central African Republic, Canadian Inuit, a French farmer plowing his field, Indonesian girls weaving a fishing net, Lakota Sioux, and so on. Each voice, or voices, acted like a conductor's baton, sparking No Tongues into musical life. Essentially, the recorded voices relayed oral traditions related to hunting techniques, harvest rituals, ceremonial occasions, invocations and prayer. Translated to Matthieu Prual's saxophones and bass clarinet, Alan Regardin's trumpet, and the dual double basses of Ronan Prual and Ronan Courty, the results were nothing short of extraordinary Layered motifs on saxophone, bass clarinet and bowed bass filtered in and out of chant-like rhythms like mantras. Ragardin blew noteless, breathy articulations one minute, then playedor rather soundedtwo trumpets simultaneously the next. Saxophonist and trumpeter sounded into each other's instrument bells. Prual's bass evoked pulse and heart-beat rhythms, while Courty played an overtly percussive role, manipulating the textures of the bass body and strings with pegs, brushes, sticks and mallets.
On the pulsating "Inuit Suite," Courty wrapped a leg around the bass to alter the dynamics, while Matthieu Prual drew eerie cries from a reed. On "La Voie Des Esprits" the quartet traveled exotic sonic pathways, from Tierra del Fuego and Papa New Guinea to Taiwan, and from Morocco to South Dakota, navigating ritual rhythmsvocal and drumand shamanistic cries with trance-like intensity. Not surprisingly, there was a primal quality to the music, but something other-worldly too. In No Tongues' curious dissonances and hypnotic choruses, lay bridges between people and spirit worlds beyond.
Equally compelling was the original composition "Mamm Gozh," inspired by the sounds of the hurdy gurdy, where bass arco drone underlay free-jazz call-and-response between trumpet and saxophone.
At times No Tongues' music was lyrical and serene, at other times cacophonous and heady, but ever-present were wickedly hypnotic rhythms. A standing ovation greeted No Tongues outstanding performance, which will surely go down as one of the best, and certainly one of the most original, in the first twenty years of BJF.
John Scofield Combo 66
\ As Dorothy and George Jacob said in an interview with All About Jazz a month prior to the festival, bringing John Scofield to BJF was something of a statement, in this, the festival's twentieth year. Without a doubt, Scofield ranks as one of the most iconic jazz guitarists of the past forty years. Scofield, however, has always drawn from diverse vocabularies, as even a cursory glance at his extensive discography would confirm. Before a full house in Mermaid Arts Centre, Scofield gave full rein to jazz, blues, R&B and the gritty funk that constitute his musical DNA.
Given the billing, it would have been reasonable to expect Scofield to unroll the music from Combo 66
(Verve Music Group, 2018). Instead, Scofield delivered a quite varied set, backed by Gerald Clayton
, Vicente Archer
and long-standing collaborator Bill Stewart
. In fact, the opener, "Can't Dance," was one of only three tunes from the aforementioned album; once the catchy head was out of the way, Scofield threw himself into a bluesy solo full of his trademark bent notes. Solos from Clayton on organ and Archer kept the flame burning, with Stewart nipping in at the end with a flurry over a Scofield vamp.
Scofield rolled the clock back to the mid/late-1990s with the feel-good tunes "Carlos" and "Green Tea," from Groove Elation
(Verve Music Group, 1995) and A GoGo
(Verve, 1998) respectively, a period when the guitarist was particularly enamored of the organ and the soulful textures it brings. Scofield is arguably at his most exciting, however, when tearing it up on straight-ahead fare, and his searing bebop solo on Charlie Parker
's "Steeplechase" inspired similarly heated playing around him, with Clayton switching to piano.
Scofield delved deeper into the blues on "Hangover," with Stewart moving between brushes and sticks as the guitarist steered the tune from gentle balladry into gutsier improvisational terrain with a finely constructed solo. The drummer's own "F U Donald" was more subtly layered than the title suggested, with Scofield roaming freely over insistent, though diverse rhythms that pushed and pulled. Shimmering organ and a gentle rhythmic pulse accompanied Scofield on a tender version of Shania Twain's "You're Still the One." The up-tempo "New Waltzo" trod more familiar ground, somewhere between jazz-funk and straight-ahead, with expansive solos from Scofield, Clayton, and Scofield again, in his signature, gnarly blues vein. An unaccompanied guitar feature of some delicacy wrapped up the set on a meditative note.
A standing ovation brought the musicians back to the stage. "Thank you so much, you're so kind," Scofield said, "not you guys, leaving" he jested, in reference to a few folk exiting the room. "Now our best shit is gonna happen." The quartet's caressing reading of Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke's "But Beautiful" was certainly the most delicate shit of the set, with Scofield and Clayton both quietly compelling. But beautiful indeed.
Lucia Cadotsch Speak Low
The jazz world embraced singer Lucia Cadotsch from the get-go. Her trio's debut album, Speak Low
(Enja Records, 2016) won the Echo Jazz Prize for Best Vocalist of the year, and praise for the Berlin-based Swiss singer has been widespread and unanimous. To see Cadotsch as the next big thing in jazz, vocals-wise, however, would be rather reductive, as there are other, equally colorful strings to her bow, as witnessed by the exquisite folk-Americana offering Edda Lou
(Enja Records, 2019) with Yellow Bird.
Perhaps the common denominator with both projects is Cadotsch's ability to put a fresh spin on vintage formats. Speak Low's concert at The Well, however, was firmly rooted in the jazz tradition, with Cadotsch backed by Swiss players Petter Eldh
on bass and Otis Sandsjö
on tenor saxophone. Cadotsch and Eldh's collaboration goes back a decade, and their harmonic symmetry was pronounced throughout. Sandsjo, who hadn't worked with either musicians prior to Speak Low
, brought improvisational edge to the music, his unbroken, soft babble of ideas fed by circular breathing. Occasionally, as on Cadotsch's hypnotic interpretation of Nina Simone
's "Wild is the Wind," the saxophonist breathed a little fire, with overblowing bringing coarser textures.
Cadotsch, bathed in gentle purple lights, captured the melancholy and fragile beauty of Billie Holiday
's "Don't Explain," while making the song her own, not least for the curiously hypnotic rumblings of saxophone and bass that bled into Duke Ellington
's "Azure." It would be hard to imagine a more original interpretation of these Holiday and Ellington compositions, or a more seamless fusion. There was more serene balladry with Jeff Buckley's "Lilac Wine," enlivened by Eldh and Sandsjo's extended improvised dialog, with Eldh then carving out an arresting unaccompanied solo.
A fine trio performance concluded with an inspired pairing of Bob Haggart/Johnny Burke's much covered "What's New?," and an animated trio reading of "There Comes a Time," from The Tony Williams
Lifetime. A seductive singer, Cadotsch's real magic lies in her striking trio arrangements, which breathe new life into familiar songs. You got the impression that with this trio Cadotsch could go in practically any direction so wants.
Down on Bray's seafront it was a very different scene. The pubs and bars were packed with weekend revelers and the bar-staff working at a furious pace. Walking into the Martello Hotel, you navigated your way through the throng of young party people and upstairs to the relative sanctuary of the Late Lounge, where Kenosha Kid was about to play.
Kenosha Kid describes itself as jazz-meets-college-radio, which might mean something concrete if you're from Athens, Georgia, where in 2004, guitarist/songwriter Dan Nettles founded the band. Since then, Kenosha Kid has released six studio albums and over fifty Bandcamp downloadable live recordings. For this short Irish tour, Nettles was backed by two of Ireland's finest in guitarist Shane Latimer
, and Gorilla Mask bassist Roland Fidezius.
A mash-up between contemporary jazz, alt-rock and jam-band ethos, Kenosha Kid cast a wicked spell with the opener, "Clean, Cover, Secure," an infectious brew of melodic hooks, head-bobbing groove and, running throughout, Nettles' stylish guitar playing. With electric Bill Frisell
as something of a touchstone, Nettles' use of loops, delay and a broad vocabulary went hand-in-hand with a less-is-more approach. Showcasing material from his sixth studio album, Missing Pieces
(2019), Nettles' guitar was centre-stage on the rhythmically driving "Always Will Be," a hybrid of garage-band immediacy and prog-leaning sophistication.
Latimer handled slide-guitar duties on the slow-burning "After This," a cinematic mood-piece that never really developed significantly. More satisfying was the country- rock of "Another Hour," and the melodically uplifting "How Would it all Fit?," a driving song if ever there was, that evoked Viktor Krauss
-era Frisell. A more sensitive side to Nettles' pen came on the ballad "Letters," which showcased Fidezius in more lyrical mode. Nettles' tasteful, bluesy-Americana chops were to the fore on the mid-tempo, radio- friendly "Simpler" and on the atmospheric slower number "Missing Pieces," but with all his compositions the vibe was the thing.
Kenosha Kid wound up its set on a high, with the radio friendly "Lift This Stone" followed by the rockier, though highly melodic "Don't Listen to the Static." Nettles, as this concert demonstrated, is an understated yet arresting guitarist, and an accomplished, composer with an ear for a good hook. His vehicle, Kenosha Kid, would grace just about any festival stage.
The last day of BJF 2019 saw a packed house at the Harbour Stage for the quartet of Aleka Potinga, the Dublin-based Romanian singer/cellist/educator. A versatile musician, Potinga's debut EP Aleka
(EM Records, 2017), where her cello and voice were equal protagonists, covered stylistically diverse ground from Nick Drake cover to Romanian film music. With her first full length jazz CD out to coincide with BJF, Potinga, delivered a bright set of standards and Brazilian-flavored fare, backed by Chris Guilfoyle
, Brendan Doherty
and Ronan Guilfoyle
A singer with stage presence, Potinga unleashed dashing unison lines with Chris Guilfoyle on the lively Brazilian opener, scatted freely on "No Moon at All" and "love for Sale," and brought a fresh slant to Wayne Shorter
's "Iris" with her original lyrics. Potinga's bossa nova interpretation of "Only Trust Your Heart" highlighted her credentials as a balladeer, with Chris Guilfoyle delivering another beautifully crafted solo. For a decade or more, Guilfoyle has earned a reputation as one of the best Irish musicians of his generation, and his soloing and sympathetic comping were never less than captivating.
Singer and guitarist combined on a dreamy intro to "Round Midnight," though the sudden interjection of the rhythm section catapulted the music into charging post-bop territory. Several more bossa nova tunes served as vehicles for Potinga's scatting, and an enjoyable set ended on a suitably upbeat note with João Gilberto's "Bim Bom," complete with simulated Brazilian percussion sound effects.
Norma Winstone & Tommy Halferty
The early evening gig in Bray Town Hall featured England's greatest jazz singer and Ireland's greatest jazz guitaristin as far as these things can be measured. Still, who would argue against such a billing for Norma Winstone
and Tommy Halferty
? Something of a double celebration, Winstone and Halferty were marking twenty years of collaboration and, not unrelated, the launch of the duo's first ever recording, Tommy Halferty Invites Norma Winstone
(Jazz On The Terrace, 2019).
Both now in their seventies, Winstone and Halferty demonstrated the sophistication and guile of artists who have been honing their respective crafts for decades. Winstone still posses a vocal range and a technical facility that would be the envy of singers half her age, as was clear from the opening bars of "Lullaby of the Leaves." Her rapid-fire unison lines with the fleet-fingered Halferty on Hermeto Pascoal
's instrumental "Leo Estante Num Estante" were particularly dazzling, but it was the emotional contours in her delivery throughout the eighty-minute set that really seduced. In a set of many highlights Winstone's nuanced interpretations of Kenny Kirkland/Sting's "Dienda" and Carla Bley
's "Sing Me Softly of the Blues" were particularly moving.
Two contrasting originals followed; Halferty's melancholy "Steps for Lara," a poignant song about blood ties, and Winstone's breezy signature tune, "Ladies in Mercedes." Guitar and wordless vocal entwined on John Abercrombie
's "A Nice Idea," though the duo found more improvisational elbow room on standards like "You Came Out of Nowhere" and "I'll Remember April." Winstone struggled a little with the lyrics to James Taylor's "Long Ago and Far Away," a reminder that even the best can slip up, but recovered with a pitch-perfect reading of Michel Legrand's nostalgic "Once Upon a Summertime."
For the encore, Winstone and Halferty visited Jimmy Webb's existential classic "Wichita Lineman," and then took their bows before a highly appreciative audience.
Anja Lechner & Francois Couturier
Though initially from polar opposites of the music spectrum, classically trained cellist Anja Lechner
and jazz pianist Francois Couturier
are equally open-minded, forging a middle ground where chamber aesthetic provides the template for improvisation. These musicians know each other well, having played and recorded together in the Tarkovsky Quartet for fifteen years, and the deep-seated empathy between the two was evident for those privileged to witness the duo's rarefied musical chemistry in the Mermaid Arts Centre.
From first note to last the crowd transfixed by the structured elegance and mazy adventure of the music. So much so, that silence reined in the auditorium for the duration of the concert. The achingly lyrical dovetailed with impressionistic streams, though just where composed and improvised lines started and finished wasn't always cleara delicious ambiguity that lay at the heart of the performance. Striking too, the breadth of their vocabulary, which referenced Mediterranean hymns, contemporary classical, Middle Eastern and Argentinian folk. Little wonder, as apart from their shared ground, Lechner has also delved into tango with bandoneon player Dino Saluzzi
, while Coutrier has for many years been a key member of Tunisian oud player Anouar Brahem
The duo's dialog was at its most animated on a piece by Catalan composer Federico Mompou, with Lechner's extended lines soaring over Couturier's circling motif. Switching roles, Lechner's bow drew deeply dark tones as Couturier explored the keys more freelythough always, it seemed, with an inherent sense of purpose. Memorable, the duo's arrangement of Armenia composer George l. Gurdjieff's "Sayyid chant and dance no.3," a ruminative, folk-tinged mediation of haunting beauty.
A lively, baroque-flavored exploration was followed by the serene lyricism of a seventeenth-century piece by Domenico Gabrielli written for solo cello, but here played as an intimate duet. The greatest drama was saved for lasta dashing number of stark beauty and rhythmic gravitas. A standing ovation ensued, providing a fitting end to a concert of near perfect conception and execution.
Tin Men and the Telephone
The usual pre-gig announcement about awareness of fire exits and no flash photography or recording ended on a curious note: "We do request that you leave your mobiles on." Looking at the stage, however, festooned with a spaghetti of wires, laptops, a large screen as a backdrop, and oddly, an old analogue telephone positioned stage-front, cordoned off by bright-red duct tape, and it was clear that Tin Men and the Telephone's performance was to be no run-of-the-mill piano trio gig.
The initial abstraction and dissonance embarked upon by pianist Tony Roe
, double bassist Pat Cleaver
and drummer Borislav Petrov
gradually gave way to greater rhythmic and melodic contours. Recorded voicethe words projected on the screen spoke of biological and chemical weapons, the music accelerated ever-more, as though racing against itself. The concept, as Roe explained to the crowd in The Well, was simple enough. A call from an alien intervention force, the Federal Union for Restoring Intergalactic Equilibrium, revealed its concern about all the populist activities on Earth.
F.U.R.I.E. requested Tin Men and the Telephone to save the planet "from a lot of idiots." The idiots would be sent on a rocket ship (number 9?) deep into the bowels of space to a distant planet. There, in a re-education camp, they would learn about art, music and the important things in life. The audience was invited to download Tin Men and the Telephone's app, where pictures of well-known populists such as Donald Trump, Tayyip Erdogan, Marine Le Pen, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un and Nigel Farage awaited. What followed was a political horse-race, projected on the big screen, where the audience had to swipe their screens like mad to speed their chosen populist to the finishing line. All this played out against the trio's funky groove. The winners in the two races, for the record, were Putin and Farage.
Projections of ranting populists, their most incriminating sentences chopped and repeated like mad mantras, then followed. Trump rapping manically about The Wall, Le Pen raving about immigration. The trio hitched a ride on the vocal rhythms and cadences, before spinning off in its own direction. Amidst the collective focus on phones, it was easy to bypass the music, a complex mosaic of interlocking rhythms spearheaded by Roe's free-spirited play. It was the prelude to further audience participation.
The trio, it transpired , had decided to compose a fare-well tune for the soon-to-be-departing populists, and invited the audience, via its Tin Men & The Telephone app, to help compose the tune. Computer graphics of sheet music filled the large screen. Via their mobile devices, audience members wrote simple melodies, chord sequences and beats. As the multiple musical pieces of the puzzle came up on the screen, Roe, at his laptop, jiggled and shaped the choices, and the trio, beginning with the bass, tested them out.
Some elements were evidently more pleasing to the musicians than others, inviting instantly accessible groove and motivic development, but in the true spirit of democracy, the audience voted on its apps for the best beat, for piano or synthesizer, for bass with FX or no bass, use of snare drum, kick or hands, and the tempo of the song. It was a fascinating process to watch, and to contribute to, instant, collective composition.
Then the analogue telephone rang, accompanied by flashing lights. With prompting, a woman in the front row lifted the receiver and was invited to leave a message for the exiled populists bound for deep space. Her to-the-point farewell became the song's lyric, played on repeat, turntable-style.
One of the most striking aspects of Tin Men and the Telephone's interactive performance was the enthusiasm of the children, pre-teens and upward, for the entire process. A number of them had no doubt been persuaded to attend the concert by the trio's fun workshop earlier in the day, but the relish with which they took to creating, what in the end, was quite complex and challenging contemporary jazz, and having a lot of fun into the bargain, was eye-opening.
Scott Flanigan Quartet featuring Meilana Gillard
The final act of BJF, in the Late Lounge@ The Martello, fell to Belfast pianist Scott Flanigan
, with special guest Meilana Gillard
, the Belfast-based American tenor saxophonist. Flanigan is one of the rising stars of Irish jazz, as his outstanding performance a couple of months earlier at Brilliant Corners
, with Ant Law
attested. This was a different kind of gig altogethera standards set in the main, played for the most part with a burning intensity.
The late finish to Tin Men & the Telephone's gig meant that the first set had all but finished, and there was just time to catch Gillard's muscular yet lyrical solo on Herbie Hancock
's "Maiden Voyage." During the interval, the small audience swelled with the arrival of some well-oiled patrons from The Martello's other bars, and the noise levels rose.
Accordingly, the players had to battle against the shrieks and screams, with bassist Damian Evans and drummer Kevin Brady
pushing the tempo and intensity of "There Will Never Be Another You"perhaps consciously, perhaps not. Flanigan's dashing solo, interspersed with drum fusillades and bursts of saxophone, competed boldly with the hubbub. In the end, it took the most delicate balladry from the pianist to hush the crowd, and it was at slower, more measured tempi that Flanigan's personality shone through. Gillard's compositional strengths were showcased on the original "Semisweet" , with saxophonist and pianist both featuring. The set wound up with a stirring version of Thelonious Monk
's "Rhythm a Ning," with sparks flying from all. It seemed fitting for Monk's music to have the final say, as his music still provides inspiration for so many jazz musicians, and so much pleasure for countless jazz fans, around the world.
When the dust settles the twentieth BJF may well go down as one of the most memorable editions to date. Several of the concerts will likely go into the 'best of the first twenty years' category, as subjective as such things are. This year marked an exciting new chapter in BJF's history, with the On The Road series taking concerts to four outlying towns in County Wicklow. For people in Blessington, Roundwood, Arklow and Tinahely, this move represented a fairly rare opportunity to experience world-class jazz/improvised music. These concerts, which were an attractive bonus to artists appearing on the festival's main programme, also have the potential to stimulate public interest in BJF from further afield than the Greater Dublin area. It is to be hoped that this worthwhile initiative will become an annual fixture.
Credit must go to Improvised Music Company's Kenneth Killeen, whose programming choices continue to surprise and delight. But on this special anniversary, special praise must be reserved for the festival's founders and directors, Dorothy and George Jacob; it was their initial vision that birthed BJF and it's because of their ongoing efforts, throughout each successive year, that have cemented BJF's reputation as one of Ireland's essential music festivals. What the next two decades will bring in the story of BJF remains to be seen, but it's sure that the instrumentation, the musical vocabulary, the technology, and the musicians that drive the music, will all have evolved. It will be fascinating to watch the story continue to unfold. Here's to the next twenty editions of BJF!
Photo Credit: John Cronin, Dublin Jazz Photography
/William Monaco Echoes In Between