Down With Jazz 2014

Ian Patterson By

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It's pointless trying to stick a name on music that rides in the slipstream of so many stylistic influences; ambient chill-out, hip-hop, dub, electronica, funk, psychadelia and jazz-fusion are all there. On the final number, with DJackulate on saxophone and O'Kelly stretching out on guitar-synthesizer the heady musical brew conjured the very best prog-cum-space rock fantasy.

The first vocal music of DWJ came with DFF, the new band of guitarist/vocalist Dave Flynn. Featuring cellist/co-vocalist Vivienne Long, Congolese guitarist Niwel Tsumbu, Aidan Dunphy on drums, Cion O'Callaghan on percussion and Dan Bodwell on double bass, DFF's sophisticated pop tunes were bursting with colors from around the world. DFF has created a a stir in its short lifespan, garnering glowing reviews from Hot Press and the Irish Times, not to mention an invitation from President Michael D.Higgins to perform at the Presidential Summer Garden Party.

Sunny tunes like "Mad for You" and "Phantom Blues" sounded like soundtracks for summer, with memorable melodies, Flynn and Long's close harmonies, toe-tapping/danceable grooves and Tsumbu's free-wheeling, celebratory soloing. Percolating percussion and laid-back strumming announced "Stonewalls," another tremendously catchy pop anthem, which grew to a rousing finale. "The Mad Magician" displayed the lyric guile and melodic charm of a Paul Simon tune.

A West-African vibe colored the final track, with Tsumbu's most expansive solo evidence of a truly exceptional guitarist—something they've known in Ireland for the past decade. At song's end a signal came telling the band they had two minutes left. Had the warning come earlier Tsumbu could have pushed out the boat even more, but as it was, Flynn introduced the musicians once more before they exited the stage.

Brass bands are all the rage these days—almost as much in fact as the banjo-and-beard-driven Appalachian bands that are taking over the planet. Leading the way from the States are New Orleans' Hot 8, Chicago's Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and the New York Brass Band, but Dublin's very own Booka Brass Band's energizing set at Meeting House Square proved that it can also blow hot and get a serious groove on.

With tuba carving tireless bass riffs, two trumpets, two saxophones, two trombones and a drummer played a lively, eclectic set that scored a hit with the crowd. Just as in the good old days when jazz was popular music, the Booka Brass Band's repertoire drew from contemporary pop culture, that's to say R&B and hip-hop. The crowd rose on cue to the Beyonce/Jay Z hit "Crazy in Love," sang to ska-colored version of Destiny Child's "Survivor" and, in a mis-en-scene that would have had Father Conefrey clutching his rosary beads in apoplectic fury, belted out as one voice the famous chorus to The Blood Hound Gang's "The Bad Touch" ("You and me baby ain't nothin' but mammals...) In a way, it's little different to Keith Jarrett's Standards Trio giving the crowds a little of what they know. The knowing applause at any rate is the same.

With a slot at Glastonbury 2014 looming, The Booka Brass Band has come a long way in the short time since its inception in November 2012. No doubt, a hard work ethic explains a lot of its success as the band has gigged all over Dublin—and indeed Ireland—building a fan base, despite the fact that most of them are full-time students. The work has paid off, with the band's debut headline gig at the Button Factory a sold-out triumph. With the band's debut CD on the horizon things are looking good for the Booka Brass Band.

Closing the first night of Down With Jazz was the quartet Alarmist, whose precise rhythms and quasi-orchestral approach to music offered a cerebral alternative to the music that had gone before. Two drummers is a rarity in any genre of music but it's a fundamental element of Alarmist's sound. On the up-tempo "Aztec Dreams," hard groove rubbed shoulders with pop melody and a precision in the double keyboard/guitar orchestration reminiscent of King Crimson. Math-jazz? Even Alarmist might struggle---should they care enough—to hang a name on its music, but it can write a catchy tune as the delightful "PG Films" demonstrated. If instrumental music weren't all but banished from commercial radio this could be a summer hit.

"Pal Magnet," the title track of Alarmist's second EP combined prog-rock intricacy with less complicated rhythmic drive and a melodic pop sensibility. In Alarmist's multi-layered sound there were the roots of all kinds of influences, from electronica and synth-pop to alt-rock and tropicana. Yet as eclectic as the music was, it never failed to groove. Alarmist provided the biggest surprise of Down With Jazz, demonstrating that instrumental music can be challenging and accessible at one and the same time.


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