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Brilliant Corners 2014

Ian Patterson By

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Brilliant Corners
Various Venues
Belfast
N. Ireland
March 26-29, 2014

It's taken a while, but Belfast has finally joined the ranks of cities that play host to an international jazz festival. The first edition of Brilliant Corners was staged in the rejuvenated Cathedral Quarter of the city in 2013 and such was the response of the public, musicans and media that Brian Carson, founder of Northern Ireland's premier music promotions company Moving On Music decided to have another go around.

It's great news for Northern Irish jazz fans of course, but importantly it gives a major platform for the talent of the burgeoning local jazz scene to reach a wider audience, with radio, print and on-line media all showing an interest in Brilliant Corners—the latest of numerous cultural initiatives that are putting Belfast on the international map once more, but for all the right reasons.

The birth of Brilliant Corners is further indication of the growth in jazz throughout Ireland. In the past ten years, the Bray Jazz Festival, the Limerick Jazz Festival, Sligo Jazz Project, Down With Jazz and 12 Points have all staged high caliber national and international jazz the length and breadth of the country. These young festivals have grown jazz's Irish profile in a festival panorama dominated by the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival for thirty years. It's to be hoped that Brilliant Corners—and all the aforementioned festivals will enjoy equally long lives.

And if the quality of the music and the enthusiasm of the public at Brilliant Corners 2014 were anything to go by, then the festival, like the Thelonious Monk album that inspired the name, will surely stand the test of time.

Day one of Brilliant Corners got underway at the Crescent Arts Centre with a double bill of outstanding Northern Irish jazz talent. The Jeremy Lyons Dectet must have been thrilled with the full house and warm reception that greeted it, but likewise, the crowd was soon captured by the power and style of Lyon's original charts and the many-layered riches contained within. There was also some first rate soloing, but like the best large(ish) groups the ensemble sound carried the day.

"Upward List" was founded upon Rohan Armstrong's bass ostinato and drummer Steve Davis' insistent cymbals. Lyons' manipulation of the dectet's dynamics saw the rhythm section drop in and out as melody and rhythm clasped and unclasped hands. Belfast-based American tenor saxophonist Melaine Gillard took the first of several meaty solos. A regular on the local jazz scene, Gillard has raised the bar for aspiring saxophonists with her flowing lines full of the storyteller's powers of narrative.

Pianist Scott Flanigan's high register, crystalline intro set the tone of "These Cold, Crisp Mornings," a pretty composition whose cool impressionism evoked trumpeter Miles Davis mid-sixties quintet. "Bit by Bit" swung hard, with Lyons and Davis taking brief solos that punctuated the dectet's melodic flow. It was no surprise to learn that this piece was originally written for a quartet; in fact the beauty of Lyons little-big band lay in its hybrid nature—harboring the flexibility to switch between groove and swing modes and more orchestral soundscapes with ease.

The tempo came down on the shuffling, late-night blues of "Suwon," steered by Gillard. The saxophonist's hushed lyricism was every bit as compelling as some of her more robust playing during the set. She then melted back into the brass section, this time on flute, as the music grew from an intimate setting to the enveloping warmth of the full dectet sound. Riffing brass and a fine melody characterized "Disquiet," with trumpeter Mike Barkley—impressive throughout the set—and Lyons featuring prominently on a memorable number that concluded a stirring set.

The crowd must have looked familiar to trumpeter Linley Hamilton, with many of them regulars at his residency gigs at Bert's Jazz Bar, and McHughes. A twenty-year veteran of the Northern Irish jazz scene, Hamilton is equally well known as an educator and as a broadcaster on BBC Radio Ulster, where his Friday night jazz program has become something of an institution.

The concert had extra significance as it was the album launch for In Transition (Lyte Records, 2014) Hamilton's follow-up CD to Taylor Made (Lyte Records, 2011). Of that line-up, pianist Johnny Taylor and drummer Dominic Mullan remain but bassist Damien Evans has replaced Dan Bodwell. The most notable change, however, is the addition of Italian guitarist Julien Colarossi, whose debut as leader Note to Self (Self Produced, 2013) introduced not only a fine guitarist, but a notable songwriter to a wider audience than that of his adopted Dublin.

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