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Brilliant Corners 2014

Ian Patterson By

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The fourth and final day of Brilliant Corners pitted one of jazz/improvised music's more established trios together with an up-and-coming one that promises great things. Thankfully, there was no overlap in the timing of the two concerts, with pianist Matthew Bourne, drummer Steve Davis and bassist Dave Kane—a.k.a. Bourne/Davis/Kane—kicking off the evening at Belfast's newest brilliant corner of the arts, The MAC.

BDK has been around for a decade and although their largely improvised live sets have earned them the tag of avant-jazz, discipline and big ears are key to their three-way dialog. So too is tradition, though not in an obvious way. The spirit of intent of pianists Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor—playful, boldly searching and unique—informs BDK's approach to music making more than the jazz cannon or stylistic formulations. The more outré manifestations of jazz don't get a lot of gig space in Belfast and perhaps for this reason The MAC was less than full. Those who witnessed BDK's set, however, were rewarded with the most riveting performance of Brilliant Corners 2014—one full of flowing dynamics and constantly evolving contours.

The trio's first set showcased several new compositions and 2014 should hopefully see the first BDK release since The Money Notes (2010). "BKD Theme" combined brooding textures and skittery rhythms, with Bourne equally adept at plying lyrical melody as descending into the depths of dissonance. Davis' "Vanilla Lives" provided arresting contrast between minimalism and frenzied improvisation. "Dark Days" stemmed from Bourne's invernal piano intro and flitted between the sort of unselfconscious child-like creativity that delights in small gestures, and a passage of quasi-baroque elegance.

There were bags of energy on Kane's "Cold," yet all the while as Bourne and Davis rustled up a tempest the bassist maintained a grooving line. Another track that began with a percussive duet between drum kit and piano innards extended into a pulsating three-way dialog of punk-like intensity—Charles Mingus-esque by another name. On "Light," with Davis on brushes, the trio glided with chamber-intimacy before the almost inevitable sonic avalanche. Calm then returned. Humor is never far from the surface during a BDK gig and the first set closed with the comic-opera vamp "Fa La La," which corralled the audience in a light-hearted call and response.

The second half of BDK's performance was a world premiere of Belfast-based avant-garde composer Piers Hallawel's "Sound Carvings, Strange Tryst," as part of the inaugural UK-wide New Music Biennial. The collaboration married notation and improvisation, though the dual personality of the music was well disguised, as dissonance, melody, form and freedom engaged in a fascinating tug-of-war.

Conceived as two distinct movements, the episodic nature of the twenty-minute piece allowed for multiple dynamics; piano strings, toy xylophone, deep arco bass and bouncing rubber balls all played their roles. Furious trio cacophony ceded space to unaccompanied brooding arco, passages of twitchy abstraction rubbed shoulders with powerful grooves; the austere and the playful were two sides of the same coin. Compelling from start to finish, "Sound Carvings, Strange Tryst" was a triumph of bold invention, a celebration of the unconventional and a thrilling ride to boot.

The crowd gave its seal of approval in its loud demands for an encore, and the trio responded with an arresting case of the blues—BDK style.

The honor of closing Brilliant Corners fell to GoGo Penguin, the Manchester trio, which has been widely praised as the hottest new thing on the UK jazz scene since its critically acclaimed debut Fanfares (Gondwana Records, 2012). The set featured material drawn mostly from the trio's recently released CD V2.0 (Gondwana Records, 2014). With influences drawing from jazz, dance, electronica, rock and classical music, pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka and drummer Rob Turner delivered a heady, steaming brew.

Having been delayed by technical glitches, the trio wasted little energy on banter, launching into "Murmuration," which segued straight into "One Percent" followed by "Kamaloka." Piano shifting between elegiac and wrecking ball intensity, wailing arco sheets of sound and pounding drums created dense waves of sound. In general terms the music evoked the Esbjorn Svensson Trio (e.s.t.) more than a little, though GoGo Penguin's greater intensity in short passages and its contemporary rhythmic influences place it closer to the Neil Cowley Trio or Swiss trio Rusconi.

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