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Bray Jazz Festival 2019

Ian Patterson By

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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.

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