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Falcarragh Winter Jazz Festival 2018

Ian Patterson By

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Following their gig a loose jam session ensued, with the Murrays, in the absence of many participating musicians, doing most of the heavy work. An elderly gentleman brought a scratchy sounding violin to the party but gained the respect of all for his heartfelt vocal renditions of a couple of standards. Derry guitarist Michael Watters gave a more than respectable account of himself on another couple of standards. With so few jazz musicians in Falcarragh— and likely none at the Murrays' level—it was always going to be a surprise if the jam session really flew, but credit to the Murrays and the couple of participants for at least hoisting the flag.

Day Two

David Lyttle: Tapes and Drums As Gaeilge

Waringstown drummer David Lyttle has gone from strength to strength since his MOBO and Urban Music Award nominations for Faces (Lyte Records, 2015). In demand all over the world, Lyttle has made numerous tours of the U.S., Europe, and China. Active in duos, trios, quartets and as leader of his groups, the last couple of years has seen Lyttle develop a solo drum show, improvising around recordings of spoken dialog. He's done it in Mandarin Chinese and in English, but for FWJF Lyttle was commissioned to do his drum-and-tape show with the Irish language.

It was an imagination commission by the Murrays, bringing into the artistic loop as it did the children of the local school, who prepared poems in Irish based on Falcarragh and its significance to them. Involving the community in the creative process so that it has a vested interest in the FWJF is surely the best way to ensure the longevity and relevance of the festival in this small town of two thousand people.

Lyttle's performance took place in a small room of An Tsean Bhearraic (the local visitor centre) at one o'clock in the afternoon. Extra chairs and beanbags were employed to seat the audience, which was comprised overwhelmingly of adults. There were a couple of children present but this was not exactly a child-friendly gig. The four seats just a foot or so in front of the drum kit proved even too intimidating a front line for most of the adults present.

It seemed like a trick missed, as a performance in the school to the children who had contributed the poems might have been more appropriate and, with jazz struggling everywhere to attract younger audiences, it would have been an excellent form of outreach to boot.

In a two-parter, Lyttle began with a recording made in Brooklyn, New York, in October. Individuals met on the streets expressed their thoughts and opinions on changes in the community over the years. To the cadences of the voices and the messages relayed, Lyttle responded musically, working the surfaces of his kit with hands, brushes and sticks -his rhythms rising and falling in intensity. One elderly man spoke of drugs and killings in the 1970s, another spoke of childhood games played on the streets in the years before video and computer games.

A woman observed how older residents are being priced out in the gentrification process, how the jazz clubs have gone and how places were you could once listen to music without paying a fortune are gone. A man born and bred in Brooklyn described the influx of Asian immigrants in the 1970s -he himself being the grandson of Italian immigrants who arrived in the 1950s. The same man noted the astronomical hike in the price of real estate over the decades, and how children are becoming a rare sight. Despite the changes, old-timers and blow-ins alike spoke of Brooklyn's vitality and the friendliness of people.

A brief drum intro preceded the Irish-language drum-and-tape segment. Children spoke of their relationship with Falcarragh -its coffee shop, the football field, the beach and so on. All the children began their poems by saying "Is mise..." ("I am...") -I am the football field, I am the coffee shop. I am Falcarragh. Interestingly, Lyttle's response to the children's poems was less stormy than the Brooklyn tape, with less percussive bustle and rhythmic agitation. The rhythms were smoother, flowing like a small stream.

Despite the obvious differences in subject matter, the common denominator between the adults of Brooklyn and the children of Falcarragh was the sense of belonging, of place and of community. Falcarragh and Donegal, by comparison with Brooklyn, seem to have changed little over the years, but of course that's not the case. It's mainly Germans buying up real estate in significant numbers, while people from many countries -France, England, Poland, China and India have all moved here to seek a better life. There are too many cars and trucks now for children to play in the streets. Fast food shops are outnumbered only by the pubs and bars.

And in the display cases, posters and photographs that adorned An Tsean Bhearraic where Lyttle performed his tapes-and-drums show, the reminders of the struggle for Irish independence, the Civil War and of the streets of Falcarragh without cars brought home how inextricably linked the past is to the present -how time and place are rooted in the identity and psyche of a person. Perhaps the only constant is change.

During the As Gaelige performance, just over Lyttle's right shoulder, the headline of a newspaper from the summer of 1916 read: "Home Rule Talks End in Discord." Some things in this corner of the world, however, don't fundamentally change at all.

Joseph Leighton

Another piece of bold programming saw Derry guitarist Joseph Leighton give an eighty-minute solo performance in the back-bar of The Gweedore. From the opener "Without a Song," Leighton set a high bar with his melodic, harmonic and rhythmic multi-tasking. Quite personal arrangements of "My Ideal" and Autumn in New York" showcased Leighton's sensitive balladry. The former is a tune the guitarist played nightly on a recent tour with David Lyttle of off-the- beaten-track venues in Ireland, and his deft interpretation of Broadway composer Vincent Youmans's 1929 composition was a set highlight.

A melodically uncluttered, though harmonically and rhythmically sophisticated version of Henry Mancini's "Days of Wine and Roses" followed. It was Derry tenor saxophonist Gay Macintyre who introduced Leighton to this tune during the 85-year old legend's regular gigs in Bennigans Jazz Bar in the city. Leighton has since picked up the torch, holding down a Friday solo residency in the same venue.
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