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Brilliant Corners 2018

Ian Patterson By

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A set of standards was perhaps to be expected, but there was much to admire in the trio's delivery. There was bluesy soul in Frank Loesser's "If I Were a Bell," the trio's space and touch reminiscent of Oscar Peterson or Ahmad Jamal's early trios. Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein's "My Favourite Things" veered from the standard John Coltrane blueprint, the trio signing off before the expected return to the head. An elegant, swinging version of Gigi Gryce's "Minority"—with fine solos from Hutchinson and Holmes—and Hampton Hawes's "Blues the Most," played with real panache, rounded out an impressive performance. The trio took its bow to sustained and merited applause. This was a fine debut, with all three musicians soloing well and gelling intuitively. It's a safe bet that, given the right kind of support, we'll be hearing more from Kelly, Hutchinson and Holmes.

David Lyttle Trio

Drummer, composer, record label owner, educator and podcaster, David Lyttle is a remarkably busy individual, so much in fact that gigs at home, like the recent duo outing with guitarist Andreas Varady in Derry, are not all that common. Multiple trips to China, as well as tours in the United States, the UK and Canada—plus an autumn residency in New York—will keep Lyttle fully occupied for 2018, though one calendar date for Irish jazz fans not to be missed is Lyttle's 4th May gig with Kurt Rosenwinkel and Michael Janisch at the City of Derry Jazz & Big Band Festival 2018.

For this Black Box gig Janisch and pianist Steve Hamilton joined Lyttle on a pulsating set of the leader's originals—contemporary jazz rooted in the straight- ahead tradition. The mid-tempo swinger "City Life" saw tremendous opening solos from Hamilton and Janisch, with Lyttle keeping time inconspicuously. "Lullaby for the Lost" underlined Lyttle's subtlety as an accompanist as much it did as his penchant for balladry. In contrast to the original recording from Lyttle's Faces (Lyte Records, 2016), which featured Joe Lovano and rappers Illspokinn and Homecut, this much slower rendition by the trio invited particularly soulful play from all.

Lyttle's hands worked his kit on the introduction to "After the Flood," reverting to sticks to effect a samba-tinged rhythm as Hamilton's sweeping melodicism held sway. Lyttle's solo spot, with elbows, hands and sticks skilfully balanced gutsy attack and melodic finesse. American-born, Carrickfergus-based Meilana Gillard brought her habitual guile and passion to Lyttle's suave post-bop burner "Perpetual Scenario." After an extended hiatus from the recording studio, Gillard's second as leader, Dream Within A Dream (Lyte Records, 2017), served as a potent reminder of an exceptional talent, reaching Best of Year lists in Jazzwise, All About Jazz and Marlbank. A tenor saxophonist of the old school, Gillard's full-blooded, melodically inventive solo proved the highlight of a memorable tune.

Janisch featured on another impressive Lyttle tune, "Summer Always Passes," and though his unaccompanied, highly melodious intro held the audience rapt, it was the trio's dialogue when fully locked on that was most captivating. A fine set wound up with "The Pensioner," an elegant piano-driven number punctuated by a drum feature, Lyttle working his kit with power and precision. How often this trio will get together remains to be seen but the association is definitely one worth pursuing.

Sons of Kemet

Brilliant Corners 2018 finished off in properly celebratory style, with a booty-shaking powerhouse of a concert by the much-lauded Sons of Kemet. The multiple-award-winning quartet has been a festival favourite since Shabaka Hutchings formed the band in 2011, though perhaps an intimate, standing-room-only venue such as Black Box is the best environment in which to experience its bristling 21st-century jazz-funk.

Sons of Kemet hasn't stood still since its debut Burn (Naim Jazz Records, 2013) , as this set, drawn largely from the band's third release, the cheekily titled Your Queen Is a Reptile (Impulse!, 2018), showed. The dual drum set-up of Eddie Hick and Tom Skinner cooked up a pulsating rhythmic stew, while tubaist Theon Cross ploughed ferocious grooves, occasionally falling into melodic unison with Hutchings, who riffed and probed tirelessly. As tightly knit as the unit surely was, there was freedom aplenty to take the music this way and that, with Cross every bit as compelling as Hutchings in the improvisation stakes.

The crowd, pressed close to the stage, moved to the hypnotic beats from the outset, with more and more drawn to dance as the concert progressed. Caribbean roots music, heavy dub, futuristic funk, New Orleans second-line and free-jazz fused in a wildly euphoric fusion that was trance-like in its unrelenting intensity. At an hour and fifteen minutes this was, relatively speaking, a short headlining set, but trying to sustain music this potent, this explosive, or trying to dance to it for that long, rendered it something of a marathon experience—and an unforgettable one at that. Unlikely to be the party band at England's upcoming royal wedding, but highly recommended for all other festive occasions.

Wrap-up

The best edition of Brilliant Corners so far? Such things are subjective but promoter Moving On Music does seem to keep on raising the bar. For the stylistic range and quality of music on offer, and for the adventurous nature of the programming, which often seems to say 'let's see what they think of this,' Brilliant Corners is arguably more progressive than many bigger and more illustrious jazz festivals. Still with the potential to grow its audience, there will be many, no doubt, who feel that the one main venue—with the odd satellite concert—and the intimate nature of Brilliant Corners is precisely its forte. An essential event in Ireland/Belfast's packed festival calendar.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Marcin Wilkowski
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