Bray Jazz Festival 2019

Ian Patterson By

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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.

Day Three

Aleka Potinga

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 guitarist—in 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 clear—a 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's ensembles.

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 freely—though 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 last—a 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 voice—the 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 altogether—a 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.
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