Brilliant Corners 2014

Ian Patterson By

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A jazz drummer in the Art Blakey mold, Lyttle is as much at ease playing hip-hop as straight-ahead jazz and this performance struck a wonderful balance between traditional roots and more contemporary, urbane rhythms. The quartet began with the lively "City Life." Lyttle, bassist Conor Chaplin and pianist Kaidi Tatham swung the music as Kinch blew hard, soulful blues reminiscent of the trumpeter Nat Adderley's grooves. Thatham and Lyttle responded in animated fashion. It was a stonking opener and it was with this contagious energy that the band set out its stall.

Tatham's delicate Bill Evans-esque intro to "After the Flood" soon developed into a reggae workout with Kinch raising an extraordinary head of steam on alto. Lyttle in turn soloed but his most arresting work was when driving the band, employing hands on "Happy Easter" to conjure African rhythms, using stick and shaker combined or brushes to vary the textures. His versatility was matched by that of his band.

Duke Special took over the piano on "The Greatest Escape Artist in the World," sharing vocals with Anne Lyttle on this wonderful pop vamp. A fairly straight interpretation of "Wichita Lineman" followed but it was Duke Special's own material---poetic and visual—that stood out; "Jesus and his blood don't mean so much anymore"—went the opening line of a recently birthed song inspired by a changing Belfast. Anne Lyttle took lead vocals on the gently beguiling "Seek."

The sunny grooves of "Lullaby for the Lost" gained potency when Kinch launched into a labyrinthal rap. It was a warmer for "Raise Your Spirit," where Kinch's tempestuous alto solo was followed by an equally charged rap improvisation where his tumbling flow of consciousness was fed by word prompts from the crowd. Lyttle took it down several notches on the ballad "Pure Imagination," the Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley tune from the film Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (1971). Listening to Kinch, Lyttle and Chaplin caress the haunting melody it was surprising to think that apart from pianist/keyboardist Bob James 1976 version this gem has all but been ignored by jazz musicians.

It was a nice touch to end a long but engaging set with a ballad, but the vociferous, foot-stomping crowd ensured an encore—a loose-limbed blues jam with plenty of blowing from all concerned. With jazz and blues at the root of nearly everything he does, Lyttle nevertheless embraces myriad influences, which is what makes his concerts, like this one, so colorfully grooving, and so full of surprise.

The third day of Brilliant Corners featured two concerts whose overlapping times meant it was a choice between Spanish guitarist Eduardo Niebla at the Crescent Arts Centre or Irish tenor saxophonist Paul Dunmall at The Black Box. Dunmall was joined by long-term collaborator drummer Tony Bianco in a tribute to saxophonist John Coltrane (and presumably drummer Rashied Ali as well). Dunmall and Bianco have paid homage to Coltrane before, notably on the recordings Thank You John Coltrane (Slam, 2012) and Tribute to Coltrane (Slam, 2013). However, the Niebla concert started first...

In a career spanning four decades, Niebla has covered fairly wide stylistic terrain, from symphonic rock and a tenure in psychadelic space rockers Mother Gong in the late 1970s to the hugely successful acoustic partnership with Italian guitarist Antonio Forcione in the 1980s and early 1990s. But it's for his flamenco guitar that he's perhaps best known. Flamenco, like jazz, has always absorbed influences from its neighbors. One need only think of the Afro-Peruvian cajón—such an integral part of modern flamenco—introduced to the genre by the late Paco De Lucia in the mid 1970s. Niebla too, is nothing if not open-minded and has recorded with both Indian and Palestinian musicians. On 'Rosie,' 'Mirror of Life' and 'India' from My Gypsy Waltz (LMR Records, 2011) Niebla's fleet, dazzling technique drew the flavors of the Middle East, Iberia and India from his strings in dense, evocative colors.

In a concert which had more the air of a recital than a descarga de barrio Niebla eschewed percussive accompaniment in favor of rhythm guitarist Matthew Robinson, whose subtle accompanying role allowed Niebla to follow his melodic muse. That said, Niebla rapped the body of his guitar to great percussive effect on the lively rumba 'Calle de la Tina.' The dashing buleria rhythms of "Para James" and the Django Reinhardt-esque romp "H for Helen" were heavily influenced by the gypsy traditions of the Mediterranean.

There were more intimate excursions, particularly on the lovely "Para Marguerita," but the technically impressive Niebla concluded a breathless set with 'I Can't Wait Any Longer'—another virtusoso tour de force.

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