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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.

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