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Brilliant Corners Jazz Festival 2015

Ian Patterson By

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In a set balanced between originals and standards Frank Perkins/Mitchell Parish' 1934 song "Stars Fell on Alabama" and Glen Miller's "Moonlight Serenade" highlighted Flanigan's refinement as a balladeer and underlined his inventive improvisations—always melodic—at slower tempos. On the Richard Rogers/Lorenz Hart standard You Took Advantage of Me" the trio's strolling-cat rhythm and Flanigan's lightly cascading runs cast a spell evocative of early Ahmad Jamal.

In the end though, it was Flanigan's own material that was most striking. On an as yet untitled tune and "Elevate," the pianist revealed a wealth of ideas, flashes of thrilling technique and a constant melodic flow that whetted the appetite for his forthcoming debut CD.

Meilana Gillard Quartet

Northern Ireland has adopted American saxophonist Meilana Gillard as one of its own since her relocation here in 2012. She quickly established herself as a key player on the local scene and played the first two editions of Brilliant Corners; the first time out leading a trio and last year as part of Jeremey Lyons' Dectet. Tonight, leading a quartet of David Lyttle, bassist Conor Chaplin and pianist Jamil Sheriff, Gillard stormed through a set comprised of all originals.

The quartet shot out of the blocks with a freshly minted, swinging hard bop tune inspired by Art Blakey. Gillard's bristling tenor idiom owed a debt to John Coltrane but of modern saxophonists she's perhaps closest in style to another Coltrane disciple, the great Ernie Watts. The mid-tempo "Connections" was a vehicle for fine individual solos from Gillard on alto, Sherrif and finally Chaplin.

Suitably warmed up, Gillard's quartet launched into a four-part suite specially commissioned by Brilliant Corners: "Vanishing Point"'s brooding blues grooves—with Gillard a smoldering presence on alto—was followed by the fast-walking bass and tenor-driven bopper "Guess Who?," which featured, improbably, a triangle solo from Lyttle; the third section, a ruminative, introspective ballad—though with wings—provided a timely change of mood, while the closing piece "Chyrsalis"—another delightful swinger—saw Gillard revert to tenor saxophone and the kind of authorative, fluid improvising that has made her the yardstick by which local tenor players measure themselves.

The infectious swing-based tune "Identity," from Gillard's debut CD Day One (Inner Circle, 2009), saw final hurrahs from Sherrif and the ever impressive Gillard and concluded a highly satisfying straight-ahead set on an energetic note.

Gillard's commission by Moving On Music and Brilliant Corners was a first for the festival and marks a significant new chapter in its short history. Its good news for local jazz musicians and a boon to the wider jazz scene. "It's a really important to invest in local talent and make sure new music is coming through," said Moving On Music's Bonner. "There's lots of great music happening throughout the year here but maybe not so much new music, so commissioning is definitely something we want on focus on in years to come. We're very happy to do it."

Day Three

Steve Davis' Human

Drummer Steve Davis is probably best known as one third of long-standing improvising trio Bourne, Davis, Kane. The trio's concert at Brilliant Corners 2014, where it delivered the world premiere of Belfast-based avant-garde composer Piers Hallawel's "Sound Carvings, Strange Tryst," was a festival highlight. This time Davis was accompanied by pianist Alexander Hawkins, trumpeter Alex Bonney and violinist Dylan Bates—the quartet otherwise known as Steve Davis' Human.

Davis led his anarchic little orchestra through fairly arch terrain characterized by stark contrasts in dynamics and sheer unpredictability. Bates's pizzicato motif launched "Wrong Car," with drums and piano sliding into the groove. With the compass set, heady collective improvisation unfolded Dissonant, angular yet undeniably powerful, the intensity of the dialog ebbed and flowed continuousy.

Hawkins and Davis shared bass duties to varying degrees, anchoring the quartet while Bates and Bonney roamed between closely synchronized lines and free improvisation. On "Frozen Goat" Hawkins hands were a veritable blur during a frenetic solo. His sweeping and wildly percussive attack pulled Davis along for a stormy ride. Even at its most tumultuous however, subtle shifts in comping roles were a constant feature of the music. From the dying embers of "Frozen Goat" the quartet eased into the comparatively mellow—though equally exploratory—"My Imaginary Friend Bink," with Bates' plucked strings evoking a folksy, quasi Chinese motif.

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