Brilliant Corners 2017

Brilliant Corners 2017
Ian Patterson BY

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It’s the culture and the beautiful things that a society produces, those are the things that should survive for thousands of years–not the designer jeans.
—Frank Zappa
Brilliant Corners 2017
Various Venues
Belfast, N. Ireland
March 7-11, 2017

In just five years, Brilliant Corners—Belfast's only jazz festival—has earned a reputation for adventurous programing. The 2017 edition went one further, with the inclusion of alt rock and electronic music stretching the boundaries of what constitutes a jazz festival these days.

Or perhaps not, for as jazz celebrates its first centenary it's practically the norm throughout Europe—and elsewhere—that other styles of music usually feature on jazz festival programs. If such artistic license is what's required to grow jazz audiences and bring younger people in through the doors then it can hardly be a bad thing, as long as jazz—in all its variations—makes up the guts of any festival program.

Brilliant Corners 2017 was, without a doubt, primarily focused on jazz and its close relatives, with purely improvised performances, straight-ahead ensembles and Charles Mingus-inspired tribute catering for a broad spectrum of jazz fans. In addition, improvisation workshops for youth and the screening of several films provided a welcome educational aspect to the festival.

Pleasingly, attendance was extremely healthy for all the concerts. About one third of the audience were regulars at gigs put on throughout the year by Moving On Music—the promotors behind Brilliant Corners and so much of Belfast's best live music—while the remainder were newcomers to Brilliant Corners, many taking a punt on a spot of live music without knowing anything about the bands on show. This, combined with the fairly wide age-range and the notable gender balance of the audiences, were also signs that Moving On Music is doing something right.

Sirene 1009/Faint +

Improvised music on a wet Tuesday night isn't everybody's cup of tea, but they're a hardy lot in Belfast, immune to the often lousy weather that afflicts this small, westerly outpost of Europe. The venue was the Sonic Arts Research Centre, the first purpose built facility of its kind in Ireland and the UK, which was opened in 2004 by Karlheinz Stockhausen—one of the twentieth century's most important composers, particularly in the field of electronic music.

SARC conducts cutting edge research into multiple aspects of the creation and projection of sound, and regularly hosts concerts to boot. These concerts at SARC are a must for hi-fi heads, as where else are you going to experience live music through forty eight speakers, positioned around, above and beneath you?

Two bands served up music rooted in the free-improvisation tradition. Although there were obvious stylistic differences between the two, there was also much in common in an idiom that embraced collective and individual freedom.

It was appropriate that Faint should open Brilliant Corners in this particular venue, given that drummer Steve Davis, saxophonist Franziska Schroeder and pianist Pedro Rebelo came together following an impromptu meeting at SARC in 2007. Unfortunately, and for reasons unstated, Rebelo was unable to make the gig, but the trio remained a trio with the inclusion of guest cellist Ricardo Jenkins, thus making Faint+.

Exploring the lesser aired textures and phonic possibilities of their respective instruments from the outset—breathy saxophone exhalations, rasping cello notes and restless percussive sonorities that included arco-teased cymbals—the trio's approach was based on the push and pull of collective improvisation. Tentative at first, longer and more insistent braying notes from Schroeder provoked an upsurge in Davis and Jenkins' animation.

Percussive maelstrom, dissonant saxophone sounds and trembling bass rose like a powerful wave, and, predictably perhaps, broke at its zenith to then subside once more, an edgy, meditative calm prevailing after twenty minutes of exploration. The second and final piece stemmed from Davis' opening moves, a more easily defined rhythmic pattern inviting immediate impetus from the other two musicians. Compared to the dissonance and sometimes fractured nature of the opening improvisation, Schroeder's bolder soloing, buoyed by more pointed rhythmic intent, seemed like a glorious resolution to pent-up tensions—for the performers and audience alike.

It was unlikely that many in the audience remained indifferent to this trio's probing dialogues, where the spectre of the unknown held almost permanent sway.

The quartet Sirene 1009 is, appropriately enough, named after an asteroid whose orbit crosses that of Mars, for the music purveyed by guitarist Han-earl Park, double bassist Dominic Lash, drummer Mark Sanders and vocalist Caroline Pugh was pretty out there.

Like Faint+ before, Sirene 1009 embraced free-form improvisation. The main difference was the dominant role of Pugh, whose improvised language pushed her articulators into overdrive. Wailing banshee, demented hag, possessed shaman, left-field opera figure -the singer's non-syllabic idiom covered wide impressionistic terrain in a breathless display of virtuosity. Her bravura performance was lent consistently rumbustious support by the ever-industrious Sanders, with Lash and Park plying seemingly independent lines of expression.

Even at its most minimalist, with the music barely rising above a whisper, Pugh's articulations dominated the ear. Park's detuning dynamics, a spare bass pulse and sighing cymbals lent atmospheric support, but after a while Pugh's marathon efforts seemed to detract from, rather than enhance, the music's possibilities. Whilst ebbing and flowing in intensity, the music conveyed little overt sense of internal conversational logic, and a much greater sense of theatrical performance. To this end, Sirene 1009's greater use of the rooms multiple speakers compared to Faint—who opted for a conventional speaker set-up—was in keeping with the quartet's primacy of sonic impact over conversational flow.

The second piece, stemming from gentle collective stirrings, offered clues to Pugh's Scottish folk roots, the singer's unconventionally lyrical lament contrasting with the restless, jittery propulsion of the supporting cast. Sanders was the catalyst for the quartet's most cohesive—and intense—chemistry, but the lack of another outstanding individual voice besides Pugh's rendered the music, for all its risk-taking, slightly repetitive.

Ronan Guilfoyle/David Binney/Tom Rainey/Chris Guilfoyle: Hands

The second day of Brilliant Corners was the only one out of the five to offer a single act. The Black Box, one of Belfast's finest intimate venues, played host to Ronan Guilfoyle 's occasional, trans-Atlantic quartet, returning to Belfast after a gap of three years. The band's debut, the excellent Hands (Portmanteau Records, 2015), provided the basis of two sets totalling ninety-minutes.

Expansive soloing of the highest calibre extended the recorded life-span of the compositions, but the disciplined ensemble execution of Ronan Guilfoyle's knottily complex charts carried equal weight. This duality of firmly etched compositional lines and explosive freedom on songs such as the noirish, slow-burning "Sneaky," the helter-skelter "Hands" and the boppish, Charlie Parker-esque "From the Apple" made for compelling listening.

David Binney blew away any trans-Atlantic cobwebs with a burrowing alto saxophone of some intensity on the opener "In Fairness," with Ronan Guilfoyle's fluid bass lines and Tom Rainey's perpetual motion providing something of a moving canvas. Chris Guilfoyle 's response was to up the ante with a tumbling guitar solo that was as technically thrilling as it was consistently engaging. One of the most exciting guitarists to have emerged from Ireland in years, Guilfoyle's recording debut came on Hands, while Umbra—the debut of his own band—demonstrated notable compositional flair. His judicious use of pedals on the ska-tinged "Telemachus" nuanced comping on "Close Call," feathery lyricism on the unaccompanied intro to the ballad "Crystal" ,and the arresting tête à tête with Rainey on the intro to "Nod" revealed a broad sonic palette, but it was his fluid, straight-ahead improvisations that really caught the ear.

Binney's fast-and-furious alto, spurred on by Rainey, was at the core of the short but memorable "Nod"—a breathless finale to an impressive gig. Whether Ronan Guilfoyle's Irish/North American quartet will record again and tour more extensively remains to be seen, but if it's to exist as an occasional pop-up band, then that makes outings such as this memorable Brilliant Corners performance all the more special.

Joseph Leighton Trio

Nineteen-year-old guitarist Joseph Leighton was making a return to Brilliant Corners after having impressed at the 2016 edition in a band of emerging Northern Irish jazz talent. Since then, Leighton has gone from strength to strength, becoming one of the youngest musicians ever to have participated in the internationally renowned jazz course at the Banff Centre, Canada, as well as securing a place at London's Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance later this year. In addition, Leighton is one of the recipient's of Moving On Music's inaugural Emerging Artist Programme, which helps promote and develop outstanding artists across musical genres.

Leighton's genre is assuredly jazz, but as the pedal effects and loops that bookended the self-penned "Planet Nine" indicated, the guitarist has at least one foot in the modernists' camp. The other is firmly planted in a tradition that stretches from Jim Hall to Pat Metheny, his clean articulation and spacious phrasing accentuating an overtly melodic approach. There was a nod to Sonny Rollins on the standard "Without a Song" -bassist Conor Murray and Leighton both impressing on this mid-tempo swinger. It was drummer James Anderson's turn to stretch out on another standard, "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," with Leighton and Murray playing a largely supporting role.

Two beautifully weighted ballads provided undoubted highlights of the set. Leighton's "Mirror Lake," and the standard "Detour Ahead"—inspired by pianist Bill Evans' version—featured nuanced trio interplay and showed Leighton at his most refined and lyrical. It's early days yet for the young guitarist/composer, but you get the feeling already that great musical adventures lie ahead. Derry's loss will be London's gain.

Documentary [email protected] Beanbag Cinema: Mingus: Charlie Mingus 68

This year's Brilliant Corners offered three very different documentary films. Due to logistical problems, the Thursday screening of Kaper Allen's biopic My Name is Albert Ayler was cancelled. In its place, Thomas Richman's Mingus: Charlie Mingus 68 (1968) was screened. The fifty eight-minute black and white documentary captures Mingus as he and his five-year-old daughter, Carolyn, are evicted from their New York apartment in 1966.

A surprisingly relaxed Mingus, affable and philosophical, , talks to camera as he potters about his chaotic apartment, playing with his daughter, occasionally sipping on a glass of wine, or tinkering at his piano. Released in 1968, a tumultuous year in America race relations/politics that saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, Mingus' thoughts on racism, expressed at times in improvised poetry, are poignant and moving.

Mingus appears to have at least two rifles lying amongst the clutter, one of which he fires into the ceiling with the calm demeanour of someone swatting a fly. These scenes evoke the iconic image of Malcom X—assassinated a year before the making of this documentary—clutching an M1 Carbine, and chime with the legend of Mingus as a man unwilling to back down in the face of injustice, and of one quick to fight.

Of interest too, are sequences of live performances from Lennie's On The Turnpike—Lennie Sogoloff's famous jazz club,—featuring Mingus in superb form along with Walter Bishop, Jr., Dannie Richmond and Charles McPherson. The emotional intensity of the music and Mingus' jovial vibe makes for stark contrast with the rather depressing scenes of the eviction. A fascinating fly-on-the-wall glimpse into a turbulent period of American history and an important chapter in Mingus' life—fuel to the flames that raged in Mingus' autobiography Beneath The Underdog (1971).

I Am Three

A versatile musician, German saxophonist Silke Eberhard can be found leading her own ensembles, playing in duos with dancer Chrystel Guillebaud, pianists Dave Burrell and Aki Takase and drummer Alex Huber, or in Wayne Horvitz's European Orchestra. She has tackled, in most original fashion, the music of Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy, and with I Am Three—featuring trumpeter Nikolaus Neuser and drummer Christian Marien—the music of Charles Mingus.

It's a bold concept to approach Mingus's music without a bass or a piano, but fortune, as the saying goes, favours the brave. I Am Three's scintillating display was equal parts harmonic-cum-rhythmic sophistication, and visceral, quite exhilarating, edge-of-the-seat improvisation. Once Eberhard had launched the opening notes of "Moanin,'" the trio embarked on a very personal tribute to Mingus that captured the depth and vitality of the bassist's compositions without being overly reverential.

Tight unison lines and wildly interweaving trumpet and saxophone lines were two sides of the same coin on the riotous "Opus 4," with Marien interjecting with a bustling solo punctuated by gong accents. The trio's original approach to Mingus' music was typified by its arrangement of "Fables of Faubus," where an extended passage of introspective abstraction gave way to punchy interaction and uninhibited improvisations, buoyed by Marien's infectious rhythms. The drummer was at the heart of "Self Portrait in Three Colors," his vibrant solo sandwiched between Eberhard and Neuser's harmonic rendering of the melody.

Muted trumpet sounded the familiar melody to "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," although this spare arrangement of Mingus's homage to Lester Young featuring ghostly cymbals bore little resemblance to the original. "Oh Lord, Don't Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me" was closer in essence to the blues spiritual of the Mingus blueprint, with saxophone and trumpet conjuring the sultry, charged chemistry between Mingus and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. A short but appropriately stormy version of "Better Get Hit In Yo' Soul" ended the set, with a rousing ovation calling the trio back for an encore of "Cannon" -Eberhard and Neuser's lament-tinged harmonies contrasting with Marien's mantra-infused bustle.

To date, I Am Three has released one album of Mingus compositions, the highly recommended Mingus, Mingus, Mingus (Leo Records, 2016). Hopefully there's more to come from this trio, one of the most original and invigorating of Mingus tribute bands.

Documentary [email protected] Beanbag Cinema: The Black Power Mixtape

Though seemingly unconnected to jazz—no jazz in the soundtrack for starters—Göran Hugo Olsson's documentary The Black Power Mixtape (2011) lifts the lid on black American history in the tumultuous years of socio-political upheaval between 1967 and 1975, thus providing a context for some of the more radical avant-garde jazz of that period. Moreover, it's impossible not to wonder at the intent behind any form of African-American art created during that time after watching this powerful, important documentary.

Filmed by Swedish journalists, the narrative comes from the testament of a wide array of African-Americans, from leading figures in the Civil Right movement and Vietnam veterans to heroin addicts/dealers, and from doctors, academics and ex-prisoners to regular working-class folk. Further insightful commentary is provided by, amongst others, Eryka Badu, Kathleen Cleaver, Melvin Van Peebles and Talib Kweli.

What the film makes abundantly clear is that the issues facing African-Americans then, namely racism, poor housing, unemployment, drug use, disproportionately high levels of incarceration, violence and all manner of discrimination, demanded revolution.

That many of these issues are still salient in the America of today is another inescapable conclusion. This notion is underlined by a tale recounted by Kweli. The hip-hop artist/activist recalled how in 2001, shortly after 9/11, he was stopped at an airport and questioned by the FBI and the CIA because he had been listening to a speech by activist Stokley Carmichael from 1967, whilst working on a new record. "It shows the power of those words," says Kweli, who suspected he had been bugged, "that they resonate even to now."

Carmichael features prominently in the 100-minute film, and the charisma of the man is palpable. On the assassination of Martin Luther King he says: "When White America killed Dr. King last night, she declared war on us."

The language of war is repeated throughout the film, with political activist Angela Davis describing America's "internal war" as a "racist war." An inspiring leader, Davis is another central figure in the film. "When you talk about a revolution," Davis says in a 1972 interview, "most people think violence, without releasing that the real content of any kind of revolutionary thrust lies in the principles and the goals that you are striving for, not in the way you reach them."

One of the biggest problems facing poor African-American communities then as now, was drugs. There are harrowing scenes and testimony of the heroin epidemic in Harlem, described by Davis as the "collateral consequences of the war in Vietnam," where many African-American soldiers returned to the States already addicted. The detrimental effects of heroin, Davis explained, had much wider implications than human suffering and the erosion of communities. "Drugs were responsible for the receding of militancy and revolutionary impulses in black communities all over the country."

But if Olsson's film is a document of systemized racial discrimination, social depravation, and the human rights revolution that was the inevitable consequence of that, it is also an inspiring tale of the pride, courage and dignity of those like Carmichael, King, X, The Black Panthers, and Davis, who risked everything to transform a morally bankrupt country. Essential viewing. Available in its entirety on YouTube.

Dans Dans Day four of Brilliant Corners was not one for the jazz purists, featuring as it did Belgian alt-rock-cum-electronics outfit Dans Dans—whose guitarist Bert Dockx and bassist Frederic Lyenn Jacques spent almost as much time hunkered down over pedal boards and electronic knobs as they did playing upright—and heavy rock/metal practitioner Hedvig Mollestad.

Dans Dans brand of instrumental music isn't easy to categorise, but "TV Dreams," with its trippy, country-meets-jazz-rock guitar, metronomic rhythmic pulse, plus electronic effects, conjured notions of Bill Frisell at the helm of Radiohead. The trio-sound gradually swelled, drummer Steven Cassiers lashing his kit in explosive bursts as Dockx ventured into heady psychedelic terrain. Almost surreptitiously, the trio returned to the quietly hypnotic opening motif.

On more overtly rock ventures such as "Cargo" and the brooding "Thieves," with bass and drums locked in persistent grooves, Dockx' gnarly, effects-drenched soloing evoked Marc Ribot unleashed. Curiously skewed bebop, Quentin Tarantino-esque spaghetti-western noir, pulse-sure African ambience and searing rock aesthetics all combined to potent effect. The final number, an episodic prog-cum-jazz-rock burner founded upon driving bass and pounding drums, featured an expansive Dockx' solo that set the seal on a powerfully persuasive performance.

Hedvig Mollestad Trio

Norwegian heavy rock guitarist Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen has earned a growing international reputation since her debut recording Shoot! (Rune Grammofon, 2011). Subsequent albums All of Them Witches (Rune Grammofon, 2013) and Enfant Terrible (Rune Grammofon, 2014) cemented her position as a formidable technician and an uncompromising performer, bringing her invitations to play Molde International Jazz Festival, the EFG London Jazz Festival—supporting John McLaughlin's Fifth Dimension—Vossa Jazz and now Brilliant Corners.

The jazz festival invitations are, on the face of it, a little strange, for although jazz-trained, Mollestad Thomassen's music takes a lot more inspiration from metal/heavy rock progenitors Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin—and bands of that ilk—than from jazz.

The opening power chords of "Approaching" from Black Stabat Mater (Rune Grammofon, 2016) instantly made a few heads turn; for the uninitiated, the sheer force of the Hedvig Mollestad Trio can come as quite a shock. Ellen Brekken's driving bass lines and Ivar Joe Bjornstad's pummelling drums provided a relentlessly intense backdrop for Mollestad, who alternated between blues-rock charge, hanging chords and gutsy riffing. It was a powerful set opener, loud and energetic, setting the tone for what was to come.

The trio still had gears to climb, as the thunderous riffing of "In the Court of the Trolls" immediately demonstrated. Yet, in the midst of the rhythmic tumult, Mollestad spent as much time developing painterly sonic textures as she did unleashing torrents of heavy metal fire. The contrasts between drive and restraint, between unbridled virtuosity and lyrical intent, dissonance and harmony, was a recurring feature of Mollestad's playing, even in the music's stormiest passages. The doomy, Sabbath-esque grunge of "Code of Hammurabi" bled into "-40," an impressionistic excursion marked by delicate arpeggios, bowed acoustic bass and crying cymbals.

The trio seemed most at home, however, when at its most incendiary, dealing out meaty riffs, searing guitar and pounding rhythms with incredible collective energy. There was room for a little rock 'n' roll theatre too, with Mollestad and Brekken stepping off the stage to rock out close-up and personal, even playing each other's guitar necks in an episode that would have been worthy of Spinal Tap had the musicianship behind it not been so impressive.

A huge ovation accompanied the trio as it left the stage, having conquered another audience with its unique, adrenaline-fueled, visceral brand of heavy rock.

A very popular feature of Brilliant Corners has been the Saturday afternoon concert in Black Box. This year, guitarist Nigel Mooney's Organ Failure, featuring former Art Blakey Jazz Messenger Jean Toussaint, Dominic Mullan and Scott Flanigan proved a great draw, though unfortunately, due to foreseen circumstances, this reviewer was unable to attend.

The weekend also saw Shane Latimer and Steve Davis—respectively of OKO and Bourne, Kane, Davis fame—lead several informal workshops with young musicians aged 12-18. The focus of the three workshops—held in the Crescent Arts Centre—was on creating music and improvisation. This initiative by Brilliant Corners promotor Moving On Music is important in galvanizing and inspiring the upcoming generation of musicians. With such encouragement, today's young Belfast students of jazz/improvised music are the Joseph Leightons, Connor Murrays and James Andersons of tomorrow. To make it really meaningful, however, such programs might need to run with some regularity throughout the year.

Documentary [email protected] Beanbag Cinema:Eat That Question

Taking a detour from jazz, Saturday afternoon's film at the Beanbag threw the spotlight on Frank Zappa. Thorsten Schutte's Eat That Question (2016), through interviews conducted over nearly thirty years, sheds light on Zappa the composer and Zappa the media personality. For although Zappa describes being interviewed at the film's outset as being "one step removed from the Inquisition," the fact is that the prolific composer/guitarist was never camera shy.

The earliest footage shows a fresh-faced Zappa on the Steve Allen show in 1963 playing the bicycle with "a pair of Louie Bellson-style drum sticks and a bass bow." A novelty act it may have appeared, but the addition of a tape of pre-recorded electronic noises and instructions to the studio musicians to "make any noise" showed that from the very outset of his singular career Zappa's penchant for combining humor and avant-garde experiment provided his road-map.

Short clips of Zappa's music are interspersed with multiple interviews, in which Zappa covers a wide variety of subjects that includes his major influences, the shallowness of the music business he so often parodied, the vote, freedom of expression, and composing. There's humorous footage of Zappa testifying before the US Senate against censorship in music, and of his affiliation with Vaclav Havel, the then President of the Czech Republic, who appointed Zappa Special Ambassador to the West on Trade.

There is also a poignant interview conducted with Zappa in his final days, when the cancer that would eventually kill him had taken a heavy toll on his health. Despite his frailty, Zappa still dedicated hours every day to his music.

Most of the interviews and the clips from TV shows/new sources etc. are available on Youtube and will be well familiar to Zappa fans. Schuute's achievement, however, is to weave them into a fluid, coherent narrative that presents a rounded portrait of Zappa as an eccentric, multi-faceted artist/composer of some genius, and as a mere mortal to boot.

Robocobra Quartet

Another band whose genesis lies in Belfast's Sonic Arts Research Centre was Robocobra Quartet, making a swift return to Brilliant Corners following its appearance in 2014. Showcasing music from its debut EP, Music For All Occasions (Abbreviated Records, 2016), Robocobra's eclectic blend of jazz, punk and urban poetry, sounded satisfyingly unlike any other band you've ever heard.

"Knotweed" kicked off the set. Ryan Burrowes spare bass ostinato, Chris Ryan's shuffling snare and tuneful saxophone harmonies from Tom Tabori on soprano and Thibault Barillon on tenor, underpinned the drummer's sung-shouted verse. The ever-present tension in subdued melody, slow groove and Ryan's raw vocal delivery was exploded by a brief bout of squawking saxophones and thrashing drums—dynamics that, broadly speaking, set the template for the concert as a whole.

It wasn't always easy to decipher meaning in Ryan's lyrics, delivered with a combination of beat poet nuance and soapbox rant, but the existentialist humour in tunes like "Witch Hunt," which raised questions as to identity and status (via the prism of Bruce Springsteen), the essence of time (through the prism of a bus timetable) and life-span, was hard to resist.

Punk-cum-free jazz energies provided the backdrop to Ryan's vocal on "You'll Shrug"; irresistible drum and bass grooves marked the line between simmering tension and explosive release on the coruscating "Correct" -a stunning send off. Lyrically and musically, Robocobra draws a line in the sand—you can take it or leave it—but as Ryan put it, "I suppose we've got our different gauges of what makes this worth it all."

Bands like Robocobra who dare to be different make it worth it all. Stonking stuff.


It needed something special to follow Robocobra and close out Brilliant Corners 2017 and the trio Strobes duly delivered. Dan Nichols (keyboards, bass synthesizer, electronics), Matt Calvert (guitar, electronics) and Joshua Blackmore (electro-acoustic drums), served up a heady brew of polyrhythmic electronica, drawn from its stunning debut album, Brokespeak (Blood and Biscuits, 2016).

The set got underway with "Guns, Germs and Steel," a storming union of swirling synthesizer, fractured drum and bass-synth rhythms, spacey sci-fi effects and extended soloing from the prog/jam band school. Calvert's machine-gun riffing colored the maths-rock-esque "Ok Please," a rhythmically dense yet melodically accessible tune that, much like everything Strobes did, made the complex sound simple. Though with at least one toe rooted in dance-club rhythms, there was the feeling that a modern dance troupe might work wonders with Strobes' music.

"BRKSPK" took the prevailing concept at a slightly slower pace, the spectre of lift-off teasingly hinted at. "World GB" was founded upon repeating melodic motifs, knotty drum patterns and sideways shifts in tempo and mood that juxtaposed staccato urgency and hypnotic legato phrasing. It bled seamlessly into the episodic "Winder," whose alternatively breathless and choppy course climaxed with a probing synthesizer solo over grungy guitar and Blackmore's pulsating—and most rock-like—rhythms.

Strobes went down a storm with the Black Box audience, confirmation once again that the programmers had guessed right. Futuristic jazz? Electronic prog? Whatever label tickles your fancy, Strobes appears to perch rather thrillingly at the cutting edge of contemporary popular music.


Record box office was proof positive that Brilliant Corners is succeeding in presenting contemporary, largely improvised music to curious, open-minded audiences. Such an achievement is not simply the momentum that comes from staging five editions of the festival—though that's probably part of the equation—but because of the enlightened programming that Moving On Music has put on year round for the past twenty years.

Contemporary folk, modern classical and a broad range of jazz acts has primed Belfast audiences, to some degree, to expect the unexpected. Furthermore, Belfast music lovers have come to expect high quality music from any Moving On Music production. Like many established festivals, Brilliant Corner's success is undoubtedly founded upon dedication to the music week in and week out.

Perhaps more than in previous years, the age demographic was broader this time round, with younger audience goers rubbing shoulders with the easy-to-spot jazz heads. The gender balance too was healthy, an encouraging sign that instrumental music, improvised at that, is becoming less and less the sole preserve of male anorak types.

The jazz buff is not an endangered species by any means, but as the music diversifies, and as the notion of genres seems to become more and more irrelevant, arguably nobody is an expert anymore. It may well be that this more equal footing creates a less exclusive environment for the casual jazz fan and the merely curious, creating a more welcoming space, and in so doing, invites audiences far more diverse and inclusive than in decades gone by.

Brilliant Corners 2017 managed to be both serious in its purpose and relaxed in its manner. A festival for all comers and an essential event in Belfast's cultural calendar.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Moving On Music

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