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Bray Jazz Festival 2019

Ian Patterson By

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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.

Accordingly, the players had to battle against the shrieks and screams, with bassist Damian Evans and drummer Kevin Brady pushing the tempo and intensity of "There Will Never Be Another You"—perhaps consciously, perhaps not. Flanigan's dashing solo, interspersed with drum fusillades and bursts of saxophone, competed boldly with the hubbub. In the end, it took the most delicate balladry from the pianist to hush the crowd, and it was at slower, more measured tempi that Flanigan's personality shone through. Gillard's compositional strengths were showcased on the original "Semisweet" , with saxophonist and pianist both featuring. The set wound up with a stirring version of Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm a Ning," with sparks flying from all. It seemed fitting for Monk's music to have the final say, as his music still provides inspiration for so many jazz musicians, and so much pleasure for countless jazz fans, around the world.

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