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Brilliant Corners 2018

Ian Patterson By

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Off-kilter tango and New Orleans-tinged country-and-western parody rubbed shoulders with orchestral jazz passages of, in turn, great lyricism, meaty grooves, and iconoclasm of the most celebratory nature—steered by Irvine's exuberant, unorthodox conducting. With wicked mischief in his eyes, Irvine invited the audience to write out graphic music notations on sheets of A4, which he displayed with barely disguised glee to the audience before unleashing them on the unsuspecting ensemble. A series of squiggly lines, random dots, symbols, equations and pictures that made Wadada Leo Smith or Anthony Braxton's notations look like alphabetti spaghetti rendered pleasingly imaginative spontaneous responses from the ever-alert musicians, with Irvine then turning a hundred and eighty degrees to rope in the audience with some asylum/farmyard noise.

Mid-gig Irvine made an impassioned defence of music and the arts in general at a time when funding cuts are the norm. "Music is way of communicating, it's a way of sharing what it's like to be a human being. It changes people. It changes societies. It makes people have hope, vision and inspiration—all those things that make you feel good about life and breathing. That's why it's so, so important that we don't reduce the arts funding—we triple it."

The madcap caper that was "Melon Head" sounded a helter-skelter warning to those who watch too many cartoons, while the episodic avant-garde circus romp "Oyster Boy" drew the curtain—with extended theatricality—on a splendidly animated concert from a sensational contemporary ensemble bursting with color, imagination, humor and passion. A standing ovation rightly ensued that accompanied the musicians on the return journey back through the audience from whence they came. Hopefully this appearance at Brilliant Corners will be the catalyst for more sustained activity from the Brian Irvine Ensemble—a fearless group that would enliven any festival, club or concert hall.

Day Six

Jack Kelly Trio

With a few notable exceptions Northern Ireland hasn't produced an abundance of talented jazz musicians in recent decades. However, thanks to schemes by leading Belfast arts venue The MAC and promoters Moving On Music a number of promising musicians have been given a boost in the last couple of years and mentorship schemes have set the wheels in motion to give a leg up to more hopefuls in the years to come. Bassist Jack Kelly, pianist Caolan Hutchinson and drummer Jake Holmes are three such young, rising stars, so it was satisfying to see this trio—making its debut—on the Black Box stage in front of an attentive and appreciative audience.

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.

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