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Bray Jazz Festival 2019

Ian Patterson By

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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.

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