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Brilliant Corners 2016

Ian Patterson By

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What it has will surely last but is that jazz? —Gil-Scott Heron
Brilliant Corners 2016
Various venues
Belfast, N. Ireland
March 5-12, 2016

Another Brilliant Corners, a few more brilliant corners. Belfast's fledgling international jazz festival may only be in its fourth year but already it feels like an established part of the city's vibrant cultural landscape, a date in the calendar to look forward to, rather than an event that takes people by surprise.

The original three-day festival has grown steadily year on year and the 2016 edition spanned a meaty eight days, reaching into new corners of Belfast, the storied city that built The Titanic. In addition to the festival's traditional venues, bean bags and a barge made for quirky new environments for the record numbers that turned out to enjoy jazz in all its colors.

Film Documentaries in The Bean Bag

This year Brilliant Corners paid homage to the late, great Ornette Coleman with a film documentary and a tribute concert. In fact, the first three days of this year's festival saw a trio of documentary films throw light on Coleman, Gil Scott-Heron and Jaco Pastorius. The venue was the Bean Bag, a cosy art-house cinema tucked away in an alley of the Cathedral Quarter, where bean bags suck you into a comfort zone that induces attentive viewing, or snoozing, depending on the individual.

The pick of the films was arguably Black Wax, Robert Mugge's 1982 portrayal of Gil-Scott Heron -self-confessed bluesologist, jazz poet and soul singer. Concert footage interspersed with Heron's scripted monologue provided a potent reminder of Heron's captivating live performances and of a socio-political commentator—devoid of all posturing—whose sharp wit and facility with language has rarely been matched in urban protest song to this day. Albums such as Small Talk at 125th and Lennox (1970), Pieces of a Man (1971) and Free Will (1972)—all on Flying Dutchman Records—remain classics that have influenced successive waves of hip-hop, rap and neo-soul artists.

Paul Marchand's Jaco: Jaco Pastorius is a warts-and-all portrayal of the influential fretless bassist best known for his years in Weather Report and for his collaborations with Joni Mitchell and Pat Metheny. There are perhaps rather too many superficial interviews with musicians who collaborated with or who were inspired by Pastorius, but the biopic succeeds in capturing both the musical power and the mental fragility of arguably the most influential of all electric bassists, who died aged just thirty five, following an altercation with a bouncer in a bar.

Independent film-maker Shirley Clarke's Ornette: Made in America (1984) explores the music and philosophy of the ever-influential Ornette Coleman. Fragmentary, non-linear and more than a little dated at times, insightful interviews with the subject and snapshots of his musical trajectory in New York, Nigeria, Morocco, and with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, are intercut with low-budget fantasy sequences that add little if anything to the narrative. The definitive biopic of this giant of modern music remains to be delivered.

The inclusion of jazz-related films in Brilliant Corners 2016 was a welcome addition to the program and hopefully sets a precedent for future editions. With jazz still to a large degree beholden/shackled (delete to taste) to its past, a showing of Icons Among Us: Jazz In The Present Tense (2009) might be a timely reminder of the depth of living, breathing jazz talent that operates today; it would certainly be in keeping with Brilliant Corner's progressive outlook and commitment to youth development.

Tony Kofi/Byron Wallen/Ed Youngs/Alan Niblock: A Tribute to Ornette Coleman

More satisfying by way of a tribute to Coleman, however, was the opening concert of Brilliant Corners in the Black Box, which featured Tony Kofi, Byron Wallen, Rod Youngs and Alan Niblock. Former member of the Jazz Warriors, multi-instrumentalist Kofi is a dedicated student of Coleman's music; he leads his own Colman tribute band, the Sphinx Trio and recorded with Coleman on Jamaaladeen Tacuma's For The Love of Ornette (Jazzwerkstatt, 2010), one of Coleman's final recorded ventures.

An unapologetically nostalgic set paid homage to Coleman's ground-breaking early albums, but if the tunes were perhaps overly familiar to the cognoscenti in the Black Box audience there was no escaping the verve in the quartet's delivery or the brilliance of its virtuosity. Kofi and Wallen were mesmeric as they switched between seamless unison lines and extended individual solos on mostly up-tempo Coleman classics such as "Turnaround," "Jayne" and "Face of The Bass." "Beauty Is a Rare Thing" signalled a change in tempo and intensity, this rumbling, edgy blues casting an undeniable spell.

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