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Bray Jazz Festival 2019

Ian Patterson By

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Day Two

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.

No Tongues

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 jazz—though no less adventurous—to 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 voices—to 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 played—or rather sounded—two 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 rhythms—vocal and drum—and 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.

Kenosha Kid

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.
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