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Brilliant Corners 2017

Ian Patterson By

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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.

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