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Brilliant Corners 2020

Ian Patterson By

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Cuts to the arts over the past decade have made it increasingly difficult for the promoters to programme a festival of international standard. And yet, year in year out that is what Moving On Music does.
Brilliant Corners 2020
Various Venues
Belfast, N. Ireland
February 27 to March 7, 2020

Maybe it's global warming, for just as the first bloom of spring in these strange times appears in February, so too, Brilliant Corners starts ever earlier. From its first, modest edition over three days in mid-March 2013, Belfast's only jazz festival has gradually fattened into a ten-day feast. But instead of reaching towards the warmer days of Spring, the festival founded by Moving On Music is extending backwards into winter, with the first notes of 2020's edition sounding while snow still crowned the peaks of the Mourne Mountains.

Not that anybody minded. the punters turned out in force for an eclectic programme bookended by two of England's most lauded groups in Laura Jurd's Dinosaur and Binker Golding's Band. For ten nights the walls of Black Box reverberated to music of kaleidoscopic colors that underlined the reach of jazz's many branches. From the Jelly Roll Morton-inspired ragtime and stride of The Dime Notes and the straight-ahead hard-bop of Linley Hamilton's star-studded quintet, to the fearless free-improv of Evan Parker's trio, the varied styles of jazz attracted audiences of diverse demographics.

Brilliant Corners' growing reputation as a festival of international scope was affirmed by the presence of New York band Wood River, Dan Nettles' Kenosha Kid (from Athens, Georgia), and London quartet Hejira. All three blurred genre boundaries, though the sometimes scant jazz credentials—in the ear of the beholder?—failed to bring any charges of blasphemy against promoters Moving On Music-an outfit synonymous with year-round, programming excellence.

Brilliant Corners has always promoted local talent and this year was no exception. The Ulster Youth Jazz Orchestra and the Joseph Leighton Quartet played to enthusiastic audiences on the popular Saturday afternoon slots. A double bill paired some of Dublin's finest in the shape of Fuzzy Logic and ten-piece When The Dust Settles -an experimental youth ensemble from Belfast steered by drummer-extraordinaire Stephen Davis. The introduction of jam sessions in The Sunflower—one of Belfast's hidden gems— formed a bridge between some of the more established local jazz musicians and those coming up into the ranks.

Jazz films in The Beanbag cinema, workshops and commissioned music were all part of a Brilliant Corner programme that kicked off just as Corvid 19 was beginning to creep onto people's radars. All those jocular elbow bumps of greeting now seem like an age ago.

The festival got under way in Queen's University's Sonic Laboratory with a lunchtime solo piano performance by Francesco Turrisi.The Ireland-based Italian pianist was fresh off the back of a Grammy nomination with Rhiannon Giddens for "I'm On My Way" from There Is No Other (Nonesuch, 2019). This review follows the action from day two.

Day Two

Dinosaur

Since its barnstorming appearance at Brilliant Corners 2016, Dinosaur—formed in 2010 by Laura Jurd with ever-presents Conor Chaplin, Elliot Galvin and Corrie Dick—has gone from strength to strength. A Mercury Music Prize nomination, a growing international profile and a brace of critically acclaimed albums in Together As One (2016) and Wonder Trail (Edition Records, 2018), have positioned Dinosaur as one of the shining lights of the UK's vibrant jazz scene.

Dinosaur, however, never makes the same album twice, as the material presented in Black Box from its forthcoming album duly demonstrated. Though the album (due out on Edition Records in May) will be all-acoustic, the absence of a piano for this, the band's first gig of 2020, meant that Galvin was unleashed on electric keyboards. It was a task he took to with relish, alternating between ethereal sound-scaping, impassioned soloing and explosive percussive accents.

Jurd too, showed flashes of her virtuosity, but it's her writing, which highlight the individual strengths and collective chemistry of the quartet, that is the Hampshire-born leader's chief vehicle. Given the rhythm section at her disposal it's no wonder that much of the material was groove based. "Mosking," which featured Jurd on muted trumpet, and a fired-up Elliot, could have been the bastard child of Weather Report and Strobes.

At a slower tempo, on the Thelonious Monk-esque "Slow Loris," noirish textures rubbed shoulders with Galvin's Bach-like progressions. The seductive blues of Billy Strayhorn's "Absinthe" saw tasteful soloing from Galvin, Jurd and Chaplin, while Dick's galvanizing broken beats were to the fore on the up-tempo "Held by Water." The jaunty melody and cantering rhythms of "Banning St. Blues" provided the frame for a succession of uninhibited solos from all. "Swimming," from Wonder Trail hinted at Miles Davis late 1960s combo as a reference point, but Jurd, despite the influences she sometimes wears on her sleeve, is above all, an original voice.

Called back to the stage for an encore by an appreciative Black Box crowd, Dinosaur signed off with "Four One," a slow-burning blues whose tension lay in the threat of collective blast-off stubbornly resisted.

Day Three

Ulster Youth Jazz Orchestra

One of the cornerstones of Moving On Music is its commitment to developing young talent, hence the repeat invitation to the Ulster Youth Jazz Orchestra following its successful appearance at Brilliant Corners 2019. The partisan crowd contributed to a lively atmosphere, and you wouldn't expect any less from proud mothers and fathers.

The twenty-five-piece orchestra swung hard, punching above its weight on memorable interpretations of Weather Report's "Birdland," Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island" and Arturo Sandoval's "Funky Cha Cha." The set was perhaps a little heavily inclined towards vocal numbers, though Róise McHugh, Crystal Ashworth and Thomas Copeland (who doubled on trumpet) impressed on repertoire that straddled the Great American Song book, rhythm and blues, Antonio Carlos Jobim and pop ranging from Stealers Wheel to Amy Winehouse.

Notable were the individual contributions of saxophonist Matt Edgar, guitarist Caolan Donaghy and drummer Isabella McMahon. The eighteen-year-old McMahon has studied with Stephen Davis—of Bourne Davis Kane fame—for three years and it showed in her confident playing. The value of an inspiring teacher or mentor is key in the development of young musicians, and the Ulster Youth Jazz Orchestra has had just such a figure in the form of band leader Ken Jordan. Since 1993, Jordan has led the UYJO, encouraging and nurturing more than one generation of musicians. With retirement imminent, the UYJO will miss this tireless servant of the music.

Having presented Jaco Pastorius' "Come On Come Over" mid-set, the UYJO encored with another of the late, great bassist's tunes; "The Chicken" has become the signature farewell of this talented jazz orchestra and it rounded off a professional performance in style.

Wood River

In the evening Wood River showcased music from its forthcoming album More Than I Can See (Yellowbird Records, 2020). Led by Berlin-born saxophonist, composer and singer Charlotte Greve, the New York-based ensemble held the audience captive with its genre-defying crossover of rock, ambient pop and jazzy inflections. Greve's main working band, Lisbeth Quartett, has released five albums, winning the Echo Jazz Prize for Constant Travelers (Traumton Records, 2011) but Wood River is not quite so easy to pin down.

Backed by Irish bassist Simon Jermyn, drummer Tommy Crane and guitarist Keisuke Matsuno, Greve's alternated between vocals, saxophone and synthesizer on compositions that were instantly gratifying. Looped vocals, shimmering guitar waves and driving beats colored "The Procrastinator," with Matsuno working his pedal board to wicked effect. Greve's saxophone playing here, and throughout the set, was more about texture and color than virtuosity, her melodious interventions brief yet evocative.

The upbeat, sunny simplicity of "Spring" —with its infectious looped vocal refrain—sounded day-time radio-friendly, though you suspect the saxophone solo would never pass the censors. Crane's softly rumbling mallets underpinned ambient textures on one beautifully dreamy song. By contrast, "Shifter" featured Matsuno's psychedelic slide guitar amid shifting jazz and pop aesthetics. The changes in sonic perspective were gradual and organic -the seams from one sound world to another almost imperceptible.

Introspection and virtuosity went hand in hand on "Sea," with Jermyn and Greve crafting elegant solos. Matsuno was centre stage on another tune of quietly epic design, guitarist and saxophonist intertwining hypnotically. Greve's vocals dominated the final number, "Glorious Times," an uncluttered yet powerful ensemble piece that drew a line under an enthusiastically received set.

Day Four

The Dime Notes

Sunday afternoon concerts at Brilliant Concerts lean towards the entertaining end of the jazz spectrum. The Dime Notes certainly qualified in that regard, with an energetic romp through the sounds of early jazz, New Orleans style. For clarinetist David Horniblow, Portland, Oregon pianist Andrew Oliver, double bassist Louis Thomas and guitarist Dave Kelbie, Brilliant Corners was the last gig of a short Northern Irish tour, organized by Moving On Music.

Dancing piano, swinging rhythm and joyously soaring clarinet was the order of the day. Jelly Roll Morton's tunes may have inspired the band in the first place, and his tunes liberally peppered the set, but pleasingly, The Dime Notes drew from a much deeper well, one that acknowledged some of early jazz's less celebrated practitioners. Yodler Emmet Miller's "The Ghost of The St. Louis Blues," itinerant pianist Jesse Pickett's elegant "The Dream" (believed to date from 1896), Jack Pettis' "Stockholm Stomp," and a fine solo piano interpretation of J Russell Robinson's "Sphinx" paid homage to some of the colorful, but little documented practitioners of the day.

With Corvid 19 currently causing global havoc, it is perhaps of anecdotal interest to note that J Russel Robinson only joined the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1919 after original pianist Henry Ragas became one of the tens of millions of people who died in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920.

The chugging train rhythms of Fletcher Henderson's "Alabama Bound," and Duke Ellington's "Jubilee Stomp"—taken at a frenetic, Keystone Cops tempo—and German-born pianist Mel Stitzel's "The Chant" saw the quartet raise some steam. At times, the driving rhythms and freewheeling improvisations seemed but a short step away from the jazz manouche of Django Reinhardt that followed in the 1930s and 1940s.

It was a considerably older audience that turned out for The Dime Notes compared to most of the other gigs at Brilliant Corners 2020, but on the whooping and cheering barometer, it scored highly. Ireland has always been more attuned to New Orleans jazz than any of its more contemporary descendants and the reaction of the audience to The Dime Notes suggested that there is still an audience for old-time jazz played with passion and virtuosity.

Parker/Niblock/Sanders

There is always a buzz surrounding any Evan Parker gig, and for good reason. The veteran English saxophonist was at the vanguard of the European free-jazz movement of the 1960s and has carved a fearless individual path ever since. An improvisor of such pedigree requires like-minded spirits, and in Belfast-born double bassist Alan Niblock and the ever-versatile Mark Sanders on drums, Evans was in good company.

The trio's initial kindling, stoked chiefly by Parker, quickly caught fire, but from the very beginning this was a three-way dialogue of intimate and intense exchanges. For the duration of the two forty-minute improvisations Parker was rooted to the spot. The saxophonist's statuesque pose contrasted with Sanders and Niblock, the drummer in constant bustling mode as he alternated between sticks, brushes, mallets and gongs, working his kit with feverish intensity, the bassist absorbed in animated dance with his upright.

Extended collective improvisations were punctuated by brief pockets of rhythm-duo activity as Parker caught his breath. Parker may be less extroverted than Sonny Rollins, but he has a similar capacity for seemingly endless narrative flow, his tireless inventiveness commanding the attention for significant chunks of time. Almost thirty minutes into the trio's improvisation the Black Box's fire alarm went off, throwing Sanders and Niblock out of their stride. Parker, on the other hand, responded to the shrill alarm, weaving in and around the alarm's call and emerging alone on the other side. Soon, he was re-joined by Sanders and Niblock who reconnected without fuss, albeit briefly, before the trio wound down for a well-earned interval.

There was no letting up in the second half. Niblock's bowing and Sander's brushwork created a woozy, skittering backdrop for Parker's initial stirrings. Sanders shifting rhythmic compass, and the primacy of his percussive language in response to Parker's improvising, called to mind the collaborations of Korean saxophonist Kang Tae Hwan and Japanese percussionist Takada Midori. It was fully twenty minutes before Parker rested, ushering in solo spots from the other two musicians. Once the trio reunited it forged ahead with unflagging intensity.

Intensity, however, without stridency, shrieking or howling. There was no wild overblowing in Parker's vocabulary, no deafening drumming bombardments nor tortured bass dynamics. On the contrary, Parker's extraordinary improvisations were melodically based, while Sanders and Niblock's playing was, as often as not, characterized by nuance and deftness of touch. Free jazz might be everybody's cup of tea, but as Parker, Niblock and Sanders demonstrated, extended free improvisation, in skilled hands, can make for a fascinating and highly rewarding conversation.

The Sunflower Jam Sessions

The introduction of after-hours jam session made a welcome addition to the Brilliant Corners menu, enabling young, up-and-coming musicians to interact with older hands in a relaxed environment. The Sunflower, tucked away off a main street, is a hidden gem in a city boasting a fair few decent pubs. Simple and unpretentious, The Sunflower is all about good local beer and good music. Seven nights a week the venue hosts open mic sessions, a rollicking pipers' session, Americana, jazz and blues, Appalachian and traditional Irish folk.

The festival's jam sessions were held in the upstairs bar, an intimate space that feels like a throwback to jazz dens of bygone years. The sessions were led by saxophonist Seonaid Murray, established pianist/keyboardist Scott Flanigan and, on the final night, by two of Belfast's rising stars in the shape of Jack Kelly and drummer James Anderson.

The atmosphere may have been fun and relaxed but there was no mistaking the seriousness of the musicians' dedication to their craft. Standout musicians included guitarist Matthew Dowie, drummers Matt Holland and Tim Rooney, bassist Michael McKinney, and the brilliantly versatile vocalist Suzanne Savage, who excelled on "Night and Day."

There was jazz poetry with award-winning slam poet Colin Hassard, who recited Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs to a live jazz soundtrack. From Donegal, alto saxophonist Micheal Murray and bassist Conor Murray—of Falcarragh Winter Jazz Festival fame—combined with David Lyttle to give a masterclass in the standards repertoire. Memorable too, Scott Flanigan's infectious and wholly convincing Hammond organ take on Daft Punk's "Get Lucky."

Perhaps best of all, however, was watching eighty-something-year-old Belfast drummer Tommy Thomas bring all the guile and craft of sixty years playing experience to Benny Golson's "Killer Joe." Killer indeed.

Day Five

Kenosha Kid

A year after an Irish tour that took in Bray Jazz Festival, American guitarist/composer Dan Nettles, aka Kenosha Kid, returned to the Emerald Isle, reuniting with Dublin musicians Matthew Jacobson (AERIE, Redivider) on drums and Shane Latimer (OKO) on guitar, and Berlin-based Roland Fidezius (Gorilla Mask) on electric bass.

On the stunning opener, "Clean, Cover, Secure," built around a simple but infectious, ascending guitar motif, Nettles displayed his considerable six-string chops. There were more fireworks to come, but the remainder of the set, the majority of which came from Nettle's sixth studio album, Missing Pieces (2019), was more about Nettle's song-writing strengths.

Groove-based rock ("Always Will Be"), wide, open-spaces Americana ("02 After This" and "Another Hour"), melodically uplifting anthems ("How Will It All Fit?") and delicate balladry ("Letters") revealed a composer of versatility and sensitivity. Fans of Bill Frisell would no doubt have loved the chugging country-rock of "Waiting for the Dam to Break," though Nettles idea of a drinking game based on chromatic modulations may prove to have narrower appeal.

The beguiling "Missing Pieces" featured tasteful guitar work from the leader that was more reminiscent of Jerry Garcia than Frisell, but any such similarities were fleeting. Jacobson came into his own on the anthemic "Lift the Stone" and even more so on the dramatic jazz-rocker "Oceans," where he unleashed a tumultuous solo that made for a thrilling climax.

Nettle's Kenosha Kid doesn't fit easily into any category, but rather straddles genres without inhibitions. It's this openness to music's possibilities that best defines Kenosha Kid and that makes for such a rewarding live experience.

Day Six

Linley Hamilton Quintet

There was a 'sold out' sign outside Black Box for the Linley Hamilton Quintet's concert. No doubt this was in part due to the star appeal of Americans Mark Egan and Adam Nussbaum, who have played with a who's who of jazz greats. It probably owed just as much, however, to the persistent efforts of the local trumpeter, educator and broadcaster to build a loyal audience over the years. It takes work and commitment to attract and maintain audience, and Hamilton wasn't too wide of the mark when he said he probably knew everyone in the Black Box by name. Many younger musicians wondering where their audience is could learn from Hamilton's example.

This gig was the album launch of Hamilton's For The Record, (Teddy D Records, 2020) and the musicians were clearly up for it. Hard-bop was the lingua franca as the quintet roared out of the starting blocks with "Split" -Hamilton and O'Connor charging the atmosphere in the room with virtuoso solos of lung-busting energy. It would have been exhausting for all concerned to maintain such a tempo, but Hamilton knows how to pace a set. A brace of more mellow compositions duly followed, with the ever-lyrical Egan shining on Johnny Taylor's gorgeous ballad "Origin."

Despite a more subdued role than that of Hamilton, O'Connor and Nussbaum, keyboardist/arranger Cian Boylan's imprint was all over the music, both as conductor and sympathetic accompanist. Hamilton for his part, was freed up by the excellent rhythmic support, soloing with finesse on The Beatles' ballad "And I Love Her," and with passion on the lively "Holly's Moment" -a first set highlight.

The second set offered highlights aplenty, including a delightful interpretation of Abdullah Ibrahim's "Joan Capetown Flower," and Nussbaum's smoking blues "Sure Would Baby." The quintet was joined by singer Dana Masters on a soulful rendition of Abbey Lincoln's "Throw It Away." Since making Northern Ireland her home a decade ago, the South Carolina vocalist has been a backing singer for Van Morrison, as well as leading her own bands, but it is with Hamilton that she has found the deepest chemistry.

The fiery post-bop of the set-closer "Right Angle" saw fireworks from all, notably O'Connor -a brilliant, versatile saxophonist who is underemployed on the Irish jazz scene. A standing ovation for the quintet ensued, the musicians responding with the upbeat encore "Happy People," a suitably optimistic tune—laced with peppery solos—with which to crown a memorable gig.

Day Seven

When The Dust Settles

One of Moving On Music's most forward-thinking projects in the eight editions of Brilliant Corners to date, When The Dust Settles, saw ten young Irish musicans abandon the straight ahead/standards repertoire that is the norm in this part of the world for musical pastures anew. Led by Stephen Davis—who recently held the drum stool in Anthony Braxton's Standards Quartet for a trio of London gigs—two saxophonists (Peadair Fraser-Murphy, Lewis Hanlon) three trumpeters (Lukas Rebelo, Ewan Riddell, Riley Melin) harp (Rosie Murphy) flute and clarinet (Giulia Marro) embarked on an open-ended jazz adventure, akin in spirit to the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Alice Coltrane or the more experimental forays of the Sun Ra Arkestra.

Along with Davis, guitarist Shane Latimer, keyboardist James Anderson and bassist Jack Kelly helped steer the young ensemble through an episodic thirty-five minutes that was constantly arresting. Murphy's cascading harp mantra and Kelly's bass ostinato laid a firm bedrock for the opening salvo of interweaving horns and Davis' bustling, firecracker stickwork. Individual solos flared up throughout the arrangement, while unison horn riffs underpinned simultaneous flights of imagination from Davis and Latimer.

At around the eleven-minute the rhythmic pulse subsided, the horns veered into abstract territory, and Anderson's keys conjured spikey, Sun Ra-esque soundscapes. Gradually, the various voices fell away to leave Kelly forging a lone course, his improvisation ending in a grooving ostinato, which, when picked up by Davis, ignited the ensemble once more. A rising swirl of sound engulfed the room, the individual voices submerged in the vortex.

And then, out of the blue, a gorgeous solo harp passage held sway, joined in time by Latimer's bell-like pedal effects and the recorded voice of a child. The final stretch saw long, repetitive horn phrases of balm-like serenity cast a hypnotic spell, with Latimer's witchy electronic manipulations having the final say.

This was a bold musical adventure delivered with conviction. When The Dust Settles provided one of the highlights of Brilliant Corners 2020. Let's hope that this is just the first building block of something exciting and fresh on the Belfast jazz scene.

Fuzzy Logic

Fuzzy Logic is the vehicle for composer Dylan Rynhart, who's musical direction he has been moulding since 2002. With Sue Rynhart, Nick Roth, Izumi Kimura, Derek Whyte and Matthew Jacobson, the composer has at his disposal some of the very best musicians on Ireland's contemporary music scene. Additional musical inspiration came from the musical cadences in the voice of Dylan and Sue Rynhart's young son, who was unable to attend due to a prior engagement with his pillow.

On the opener, Rynhart and Roth's chirpy unison lines, vibrant rhythms, and untethered soloing from Kimura on electric keyboard and Roth on soprano saxophone, set the template for much of what followed. Fuzzy Logic, however, is so named for a reason, and there were numerous leftfield turns along the way.

Tender and intimate at one extreme, wild and stormy at the other, the quintet's journey between the musical poles was a seductive one. A lullaby-esque wordless ballad, punctuated by Whyte's lyrical solo, bled into a free-jazz tempest, whipped up by Roth and Jacobson. From freedom, form re-emerged, with Rynhart at the helm of a driving ensemble groove. Her distinctive undulating vocals mixed spoken-word narrative with rising cries and idiosyncratic vocalisations that are her stock in trade.

Roth's improvisations were thrilling, but no less impressive was Rynhart's ability to carry an extended melodic line with unwavering power and precision. Impressive too, the quintet's handling of Dylan Rynhart's demanding charts, no more so than on "Jim," a dark, fable-like tale whose explosive transition from unaccompanied vocals to improvised maelstrom was electrifying. The quintet signed off with another roller coaster song, where mesmerizing slow passages dominated by Rynhart, and Kimura's painterly keys, gave way to highly charged yet intricate ensemble play. Unique, entrancing and full of the sound of surprise.

Day Eight

Hejira

Within seconds of easing into "Save it for Another," complete silence descended on the room like a veil. Not a murmur, nor the tinkling of glasses. Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne's bewitching, soulful voice, framed by spare arrangements of ambient soul exerted a hypnotic spell, even though the lyrics were difficult to decipher. The London-born singer of Ethiopian descent was presenting music from Hejira's second release, Thread of Gold (Lima Limo Records, 2019), inspired by a visit to the land of her forbearers.

Field recordings from that Ethiopian pilgrimage served as intros to the songs, but inspiration aside, the compositions were musically rooted in contemporary British soul-pop, typified by the gloriously cheery "Joyful Mind," an anthem to optimism, which, if there was any justice, would supplant Pharrell Williams' "Because I'm Happy" as the go-to, spirit-lifting song of public radio.

Sam Beste's vocal harmonies with Debebe-Dessalegne, Alex Reeve's subtle guitar textures and the uncluttered beats of Alexis Nunis combined to create beautifully artful choreography—ethereal and soothing for the most part, with floating melodies as soothing as a cool stream. A gently bluesy, wordless gospel opened the second set, followed by the mantra-like vocals and sharply defined guitar lines of "Litmus Test," from Hejira's debut album, Prayer Before Birth (Accidental records, 2013). The anthemic pop of "I Don't Belong" might have better served a dancefloor [check out the great video on Youtube] -a colorful anomaly in the predominantly chilled aesthetic of the band.

There was little inkling of any improvisation in Hejira's highly polished set, an absence that doubtless surprised a few people expecting a more jazz-influenced performance, but the rapturous applause that greeted the band at the end was unequivocal. The encore, "Fields of Rooftops," saw susurrus vocal harmonies and deft keys weave dreamy minimalism that served as a poetic reprise to a beguiling concert.

Day Nine

Joseph Leighton Quartet

It's been a heady time for young Derry guitarist Joseph Leighton, a benefactor of Moving On Music's Emerging Artist Programme in 2016. After a year studying at Trinity Labane Conservatoire in London, Leighton has formed a successful duo with Waringstown drummer David Lyttle, with whom he toured Lebanon, Egypt, Israel, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Jamaica in 2019 alone, not to mention around sixty gigs throughout Ireland.

Leighton has also led his own ensembles for a number of years, and his terrific performance in the Green Room (the smaller, adjacent performance space of Black Box) during Brilliant Corners 2019, with Jack Kelly and Joel Waters, persuaded Moving On Music to put him onto the venues main stage. That the festival promoters clearly have faith in Leighton's ability was witnessed in the commission awarded the guitarist for this year's festival, and in the guitarist's ability to pull together three of contemporary jazz's brightest talents.

It was with the commissioned suite "Submerged" that Leighton, along with bassist Conor Chaplin, saxophonist Julian Siegel and Lyttle kicked off the show. An acolyte of the standards/straight ahead repertoire, Leighton's suite lay within familiar stylistic parameters, with head-solos-head being the blueprint throughout. Clearly written with the musicians in mind, the soloing—as strong as you would expect from musicians of this calibre—were at the service of the tune. From the swinging Blue Note-esque "Minesweeper," through the mid-tempo "Submerged" and the walking-bass-driven "Octopus," Leighton's suite was characterized by melodic flow, a fine balance between form and freedom, and elegant transitions from one segment to another.

Standards made up the remainder of the set, of which a beautifully weighted version of "Darn That Dream" —with Siegel at his lyrical best—-arguably the standout. Leighton dedicated "Just in Time" to McCoy Tyner, who had sadly died the day before; the guitarist was at the coalface of this spirited rendition of a tune beloved of Tyner, working just as hard as an accompanist to a fired-up Siegel as when soloing himself. A wonderfully mazy take on "All Or Nothing At All," featuring a hands-only solo from the utterly distinctive Lyttle, and Charlie Parker's storming bebop classic "Segment," raised the bar again, with Leighton and Siegel spurred on by Chaplin and Lyttle's industry.

At 22, Leighton is still starting out, but that he can already cut it with vastly more experienced musicans speaks volumes for his talent. Technically, the Derry guitarist packed plenty of punch, sounding like an old hand navigating the standards repertoire. The commissioned music, however, gave a glimpse into another future—one where Leighton develops a musical personna that really sets him apart from the pack.

Day Nine

Binker Golding's Band

Binker Golding has certainly enlivened an already vibrant London jazz scene in recent years, particularly as one half of the award-winning Binker and Moses and in his role as musical director of Tomorrow's Warriors Youth Orchestra. Worth mentioning too, Golding's excellent collaboration with Elliot Galvin, Ex Nihilo (Byrd Out Records, 2019). If Binker's collaborations with Moses Boyd have delved into the realm of free jazz, his current band is more attuned to a hard-bop lineage stretching from Sonny Rollins to Michael Brecker.

For the final concert of Brilliant Corners 2020, Golding showcased the music from Golding's Abstractions of Reality Past & Incredible Feathers (Gearbox Records, 2019), backed by Sam Jones, Max Luthert and Sarah Tandy. Kicking off with "Skinned Alive, Tasting Blood," Golding served early notice of the improvisational flair that has brought comparisons to both Rollins and Coltrane.

Also vying for the MVP award, were Jones and Tandy, two remarkably dynamic performers who were no less impressive. Jones exuded the combination of muscle and dexterity more usually associated with American drummers, while Tandy held the Black Box rapt with exquisitely constructed solos that grew from feathery stirrings to full blown charge. Luthert's was a less expansive role, though his constantly probing rhythms were integral to the quartet's burning drive.

The handsome "Exquisite She Green" had a more contemporary rhythmic feel to it, with Golding's initially delicate stirrings building towards a head of steam, propelled by Jones. Likewise, Tandy's gossamer touch blossomed into a more robust flow, while the underlying slower tempo also allowed Luthert to take his turn in the spotlight. A fired-up version of Thelonious Monk's "Well You Needn't" featured fireworks from the leader and Tandy. The pianist's punchy left hand and sizzling right-hand glissandi were thrilling, and it was hard not to think of McCoy Tyner, whose spirit was once more present at Brilliant Corners.

For the inevitable encore, the Coltrane-esque "Fluorescent Black" saw Golding and Tandy pull out all the stops with breathless, exhilarating solos, spurred on by Luthert and Jones. It marked a tremendous ending to a brilliant, if curiously nostalgic performance.

Wrap Up

Not all the music at this year's Brilliant Corners fitted snuggly into the box marked jazz, but then again, what constitutes jazz has divided opinion at almost every point in the music's evolution. Moving On Music is not averse to a little provocation. The best festivals, after all, challenge as well as entertain audiences. They open people to music that mightn't hear anywhere else, encouraging them to question what they know and to consider what they don't. Brilliant Corners does just that.

Though Arts Council funded, Moving On Music does not have a bottomless swag bag with which to stage Brilliant Corners. Cuts to the arts over the past decade have made it increasingly difficult for the promoters to programme a festival of international standard. And yet, year in year out that is what Moving On Music does. High quality local, national and international artists, without budget-busting headliners or the increasingly commonplace mainstream pop acts that many jazz festivals feel obliged to programme.

The danger, of course, is that if the purse strings tighten any more, Brilliant Corners could risk going the same way as the now defunct Galway Jazz Festival. Or perhaps even Bray Jazz, which for the first time in its twenty-year history announced a fallow year for 2020 as it attempts to restructure financially in a way that ensures greater and longer-lasting stability. With the very real danger of the world sliding deeper into an Us and Them fortress mentality, Brilliant Corners is a celebration of diversity and inclusion. And if that's not worth defending, what is?

Photo credit: Marcin Wilkowski

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