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Brilliant Corners 2014

Ian Patterson By

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From the first notes of "Our Tune" the quintet was buzzing with a collective energy that translated into vital interpretations of essentially highly melodic material. Following a delightful piano intro Hamilton and Colarossi plied the melody in tandem—the guitarist shadowing the leader's lines with just enough embellishment to create an edge. First Hamilton then Colarossi shook free the collective harness, soloing with passion and control over the solid rhythmic foundation. Saxophonist Joe Henderson's hard-bop classic "The Kicker" followed a similar pattern. Taylor soloed accompanied by Evans and with the quintet reunited over a fast-walking bass line Mullan tore around his kit in an exciting finale.

The tempo eased on the ballad "Song for Pav," with Hamilton and Taylor's economy of notes matched by the emotive power of their respective solos. Introducing "Anthem" by Australian trumpeter Paul Williamson, Hamilton remarked: "You never know how that goes down in a place like this but I'm sure we're all over it by now." Indeed, the brouhaha about flags and causes in the politically divided North is increasingly relegated to the margins of daily life in Belfast, where once upon a time it was all there was. Williamson's melodious composition didn't lack for intensity and Hamilton paid tribute to the trumpeter/arranger, acknowledging his "magnificent contribution to jazz in Ireland" during his two-year spell in Dublin from 2006-2008.

Two slower numbers, South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim's "Joan-Capetown Flower" and American-Canadian singer-songwriter Rufus Wainright's "Dinner at Eight" provided set highlights. Hamilton's burnished tone and lovely coloring from Colarossi graced the former, while Taylor shone on the latter. In introducing Wainright's song, Hamilton spoke of his appreciation for what he termed "the new American Songbook."

By the New American Songbook, Hamilton was referring to the Tom Waits, Paul Simon, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell tunes—amongst others—that are increasingly grist to the mill of numerous jazz musicians the world over. "You can't beat good music," Hamilton stated. "You certainly can't disqualify it. We're always looking for songs to play that connect people and give you a more enjoyable experience in concerts like this." The sentiment and the practise are no different to the adoption of popular showtunes by the likes of trumpeters Charlie Parker, Miles Davis or pianist Bill Evans in times past. It's inevitable that new tunes enter the standards repertoire; the only surprise has been the tenacity of the Great American Songbook to resist the changing tide.

Inevitably, the quintet followed that with a swinging version of "Without a Song"—a standard that's so well traveled it's been to the moon and back. Hamilton's robust, blues-inflected lines led the way over Evans fast-walking bass and a playful give-and-take between Hamilton and Taylor paved the way for a fine extended improvisation from the pianist. The grooving and highly apt "Happy People" featured final flings from Hamilton and the impressive Colarossi, ending a marvelous set on a high.

Hamilton, without a doubt, has assembled one of Ireland's finest small jazz ensembles. With the quintet members hailing from both sides of the—now invisible—border it might prove logistically challenging for this quintet to gig with any great frequency. On the other hand, it's arguably a wonderful excuse to encourage further North-South exchanges and nationwide touring, something that is still relatively poorly developed.

An all-Ireland music promotion agency might still be some way off in the future but it would surely be in the interests of the Arts Councils and the National Tourism Boards of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to pursue such a goal. The benefits for the musicians, the industries that surround them, and for the music-supporting public alike don't need spelling out.

Day two of Brilliant Corners featured drummer David Lyttle and his band featuring alto saxophonist/rapper Soweto Kinch and Belfast singer-songwriter/pianist Duke Special. The tireless Lyttle is something of an industry onto himself. It's hard to believe that the Waringstown musician is still in his twenties, given his recording history as a leader and sideman. Then there's his record label Lyte Records, which has developed from a simple vehicle with which to release his own material into one of the most important music labels in Ireland.

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