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Bray Jazz Festival 2019

Ian Patterson By

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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 baritone—occasionally switching to tenor or bass saxophones—the 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 pastiche—sat 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.

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.

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