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Bray Jazz Festival 2019

Ian Patterson By

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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 song—were 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.

Marc Copland

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 abstraction—with a strong rhythmic current nevertheless ever- present—so 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.

Fire!

The brilliantly illuminated stained-glass window in The Well—the refurbished Cornerstone Church—formed 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."

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