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Galway Jazz Festival 2016

Galway Jazz Festival 2016

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Galway has shown in its recent history that culture works; culture pays, culture creates energy…from the culinary arts practised at their zenith to events like the Galway Jazz Festival.
—John McKenna, Food Critic
Galway Jazz Festival
Various Venues
Galway, Ireland
October 7-9, 2016

The best jazz festivals are not necessarily the biggest. They're not always the ones with the marquee names. The best festivals, without a doubt, are the ones you remember, years later, for having had a hell of a good time. Such festivals, first and foremost, are usually rooted in and celebrate community. They often promote feasting, revelry and joy. The Galway Jazz Festival ticked all those boxes over a memorable weekend, one that that may well mark a turning point in the festival's fortunes.

The weather was kind too, with the torrid Atlantic squall and autumnal windstorms that toy with the west coast of Ireland staying away for the weekend. Of course, good weather helps, but Galway is a fun city whatever the skies dish up, habitually exuding a lively, sociable spirit.

The backdrop to the 11th Galway Jazz Festival was a vibrant one. The city's streets were bustling with young Europeans over on English study programmes; older, Irish-American tourists tracing their roots queued up to buy Galway's famed Claddagh ring, the symbol of friendship, love and loyalty; the city's restaurants, bistros and cafes were bursting at the seams; pub crowds spilled over onto the streets, the terrace tables awash with Guinness, oysters and banter.

Everywhere, the air was filed with the music of buskers, as traditional Irish folk, flamenco, a plethora of hurdy gurdy practitioners and guitar-strumming singers all vied for loose change. The compact nature of Galway meant that it was possible to stroll with ease from theatre to club, from bar to restaurant or hotel, from one gig to the next, through the alleys and lanes of the city' winding pedestrian heart.

All told, just a normal early October weekend in Galway.

There was, however, a different feel to the Galway Jazz Festival this year. Even a few months prior, you could see that change was afoot from the festival's swanky new website. Much of the impetus for the improvement in GJF's quality is down to the new Artistic Director, Matthew Berrill, who with significant support of Ciaran Ryan, Maeve Byran and Aengus Hackett and a first-rate team, has upped the ante program-wise, not just in terms of the names performing but in the adventurous nature of the festival's menu.

In addition to jazz of various stripes, GJF '16 also offered the rare chance to hear a church organ recital of Bach's Goldberg Variations and a performance of John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano. Very reasonably priced tickets proved attractive, resulting in full venues for nearly every performance. Free gigs, music masterclasses and a fascinating panel discussion—held in pubs, theatres and cultural centres—were also popular.

A defining feature of GJF '16, and a large part of its charm, was down to the close ties of the festival with the city's restaurants and artisan food and drink merchants. Galway's top-class restaurants proved to be most generous hosts to the musicians, and in the process, served as wonderful cultural ambassadors for a city designated as European Capital of Culture 2020.

Gourmet food and fine drink—cheeses, wines, ales and pastries to die for—were never far from hand during GJF '16, a tradition arguably dating back centuries to times when Spanish and French galleons unloaded wine, brandy and cured ham in Galway's port, loading up with wool, metals and perhaps the odd jug of poteen—oats, barley or potato based moonshine—for the return journey.

Opening with John McKenna at The Kitchen

Given the close relationship at GJF '16 between food & drink and music, it was appropriate that the festival's official opening should take place in The Kitchen—one of the city's best, yet most unpretentious eateries—with a few words of welcome from Ireland's greatest food authority, John McKenna.

McKenna, an ardent jazz fan, knows about both music and food. Who else, in a book about restaurants, would dream of comparing Irish Prime Minster Enda Kenny to Ornette Coleman?

In the late 1970's McKenna, a student at the time, was a music journalist for Dublin music magazine Hot Press, where he acknowledged writing "incomprehensible rubbish" about jazz records. McKenna has enjoyed wider fame as an award-winning food writer, authoring numerous guide books—with wife Sally McKenna—on the best restaurants in Ireland.

"The wonderful thing about jazz is that when it hits you you're not the same person," McKenna began. "After you've heard "Round About Midnight" for the first time, or "Milestones" or "Giant Steps," or "Red Beans and Rice..."something within you is forever changed."

If for some of those present the link between food and jazz sounded a little tenuous, McKenna soon put any such doubt to bed. "When you think about what the great cooks in Galway do, and what the musicians are going to do over the weekend, they both do the same thing, with different materials. They both fundamentally improvise in real time. No great cook cooks the same dish twice—ever. No jazzer ever plays the same set of chords or the same phrase the same way twice."

In wrapping up, McKenna paid tribute to the hard work of all those involved in staging the GJF '16, and to the importance of culture. "Galway has shown in its recent history that culture works; culture pays, culture creates energy...from the culinary arts practised at their zenith to events like the Galway Jazz Festival."

Certainly there was a massively positive energy in The Kitchen for the GJF '16 launch as the youngsters of the Headford Music Works jazz ensemble worked their way admirably through a few jazz standards while waiters circulated with platters of delicious sweet and savoury pastries, and the good folk from the Galway Brewery served glasses of porter, ale and beer.

The Sofa Sessions Presents...

Cormac Larkin, internationally respected jazz critic for The Irish Times and curator of the Sofa Sessions at Billy Byrnes, Kilkenny, presented three lunchtime concerts over the weekend in the oyster bar of The Meyrick Hotel. This handsome hotel sits facing Eyre Square, also known as John F. Kennedy Memorial Park, in honor of the US President, who made a speech here in 1963, just six months before his assassination. The Meyrick's central location made it a good choice for the free gigs, enabling city centre workers to enjoy top-class jazz during their lunchbreak.

Guitarist/sound sculptor Shane Latimer, who impressed during the Improvised Music Company's two-day avant-garde guitar festival String Theory back in May, got the Sofa Sessions rolling on Thursday, 6 October, a day before the official launch of the festival. All About Jazz picked up the thread the following two days.

Phil Ware Trio

Phil Ware, Dave Redmond and Kevin Brady together constitute one of Ireland's finest jazz trios, with almost a decade under its belt since Ware's debut recording In Our Own Time (Pewter Music, 2007). All have played with many of the UK's and the US' most celebrated jazz musicians, including Norma Winstone, Peter Bernstein, Georgie Fame, Ian Shaw and Bobby Wellins, to name just a few.

Pianist Ware led from the front on an elegant arrangement of John Coltrane's "Countdown," with Brady's deft brushwork and Redmond's springing bass lines lending bouyant support. Compelling, the pianist's caressing interpretation of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Andorinha." Likewise, Ware's fine touch on Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke's hypnotic ballad "But Beautiful"—featuring an achingly lyrical solo from Redmond—held the audience rapt.

At swinging tempos, notably on the Gene de Paul/Don Raye standard "You Don't Know What Love Is," the trio's intuitive interplay was chief protagonist. Ware, a pianist of the less-is more school who wastes very few notes, indulged himself just a little on the helter-skelter charge of {Charlie Parker}}'s bebop/blues classic "Relaxin' at Camarillo," a fun, adrenaline-charged conclusion to a fine set.

Mark Duley: Goldberg Variations

St. Nicholas Church dates to the early 14th century and has been in continuous use since then. Christopher Columbus stopped here to pray in 1477. Another visitor, one whose mark can still be seen, was English General Oliver Cromwell, whose troops stabled their horses inside the church following the seven-month siege of Galway that ended in 1652. Cromwell's troops are said to have desecrated monuments inside the church -most of the carved figures on the church's pillars and walls are without faces and hands.

Four hands were needed for organist Mark Duley's performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations. The organ dates from 1912, though original pipes from the 1845 model remain. It's a model little changed from organ designs of the 13th and 14th centuries, with multiple stops (or draw-knobs) operated manually. To that end, Duley was aided by organist Ronan DeBurca, who stood for the full eighty-minute performance, periodically pulling the stops to allow air into the pipe chambers.

Bach's Goldberg Variations is most usually performed on piano, and, given that Bach is often referred to as the first jazz musician, it's not surprising that his most iconic work for harpsichord should invite versions from jazz musicians (or jazz-styled interpretations) such as those by Keith Jarrett, Jacques Loussier, Uri Caine and Dan Tepfer. Organ recitals are less common by comparison, though one contemporary recording by Robert Costin (Stone Records, 2013) is worth checking out.

The hundred-year-old organ of St. Nicholas' Church doesn't have too many pipes, nor are they particularly large, hence the sound during Duley's performance didn't transmit too well towards the back of the church. For the lucky ones sat in the choir's pews directly facing the organ, however, the recital felt like a delightfully intimate performance. From the wistful opening aria, Duley's variations passed from the contemplative to gently dancing motifs and from tender melodicism and more sombre modes to fizzing toccata.

DeBurca pulled the drawknobs in the short gaps before each variation—a labour-intensive exercise that required alertness and great timing. Hypnotic fugues, trills and slow-walking bass lines/chordal progressions combined ornamentation with rhythmic compass, though the most arresting segments were, arguably, also the most virtuosic. Nearly an hour and twenty minutes after starting, Duley steered the music back to the opening aria, signalling the end of a special performance—just a heartbeat away from jazz- -and earning the organist a prolonged ovation.

Lauren Kinsella

London-based Irish vocalist/composer Lauren Kinsella was coming to the GJF '16 fresh off the back of her Jazz FM UK Vocalist of the Year Award. It's been a busy year for Kinsella, with the release of the debut album from Snowpoet (Two Rivers Records, 2016)—her poetic folk-cum-psychedelic collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Chris Hyson—and Abrha, a poetry-inspired recording by French saxophonist Julien Pontvianne's pan-European ensemble.

In the funky, retro surroundings of nightclub Electric, Kinsella lead her own group through material old and new. A couple of refreshingly alternative arrangements of "My Guess" and the infectious "Malin's Chai" from My Guess (Diatribe Records, 2013) opened the set. With the rhythm section of bassist Conor Chaplin, drummer Simon Roth and pianist Dan Nicholson providing tight but elastic support, the main sparks flew between Kinsella and saxophonist Tomas Challenger, whose every probing improvisation pulled the quintet into adventurous terrain that felt as if it could go off in any direction imaginable.

Nichol's subtle electronics and gently billowing saxophone colored the spare architecture of Pontvianne's "Be Blown," with Kinsella's beguiling delivery of American poet/philosopher Henry David Thoreau's text—lightly punctuated by her trademark non-syllabic improvisations—casting a spell on the audience, hooked as it was in absolute silence.

The remainder of the set featured compositions from the suite What Window Do You Look Out Of?, a work commissioned by the Marsden Jazz Festival in 2015. Inspired by the photos of Sebastião Salgado, the poetry of Simon Armitage and Patti Smith's autobiography, Kinsella's compositional nuances—the use of space, the contrast between solo voices and ensemble sound, the dynamics of volume—were as striking as her unique vocal delivery.

A number of today's most interesting jazz vocalists are charting courses quite distinct from the tradition of the jazz standard, uninhibited by the hitherto prevailing style of jazz scat. Of course, there's nothing new under the sun; artists such as Meredith Monk and Sidsel Endresen have been experimenting vocally for decades. Kinsella, regardless of whoever's shoulders she may stand on, is cut from a similar cloth; as compelling as a virtuoso instrumentalist, as alluring as the most enigmatic poet.


Following Lauren Kinsella's performance, internationally renowned Dutch DJ Antal spun an upbeat fusion of hip-hop, dance and jazz that animated Electric's space late into the night.

Day 2

Panel Discussion: 'So How Come More Women Don't Play The Drums?'

Galway's famous Mick Lally Theatre played host to a fascinating panel discussion about the relative lack of female instrumentalists in jazz. Curated by Ciaran Ryan, the panel brought together Sharon Rollston, CEO of Music Network (Ireland's leading promotor of jazz, classical and folk music), singer/educator Lauren Kinsella, Nigel Flegg, Head of Education, Community and Outreach at the National Concert Hall, Dublin, musician and broadcaster Ellen Cranitch and Dr. Mairead Berrill, lecturer in music education.

Although there are many more women instrumentalists in jazz than in decades past, the music remains a predominantly male domain. "Jazz is possibly the most imbalanced of musical genres," said Flegg, throwing the cat amongst the pigeons early in the discussion. Why, though, has jazz been so slow to enable women's participation as instrumentalists -to address the gender imbalance?

For Flegg, jazz was born and grew up in a historical era where gender balance in the music was not an issue because it didn't exist at all, and where the music was played in venues that were "frequently unsavoury, clubs where there was a lot of vice, clubs run by gangsters." If the vice and danger was off-putting to women in the first two or three deacdes of the twentieth century, how can we explain the obstacles in more recent times to women picking up an instrument and forming/joining jazz groups?

One of the main problems, the panel generally agreed, has been the lack of role models. Jazz histories lionize male instrumentalists (so too fictions—just think of the film Whiplash), whereas women included in such narratives tend to be restricted to a few iconic singers. As Ryan pointed out, women jazz musician weren't always in short supply, citing the CBS documentary The Girls in the Band (2011), which recounts how hundreds of women musicians toured the USA in all-girl jazz bands during the 1930s and 1940s, only to all but disappear by the 1950s. How we are taught about jazz history may be one of the fundamental problems that needs addressing.

Even in genres of music where gender balance has improved significantly in recent deacdes, for example in classical music orchestras, there is still, Flegg pointed out, a delineation of instruments along gender lines. "Ninety two per cent of double bassists are male...ninety seven per cent of harp players are female." Such disparities, Flegg expanded, run across the orchestra, where the majority of violinists and flautists are women, whereas the brass section is heavily dominated by males.

Big loud instruments for the boys and small, quiet instruments for the girls? Perhaps, but as Berrill noted, resources and logistics do play their part in shaping girls' choices with regard to taking up an instrument. The widely held perception that certain instruments are 'male' and others 'female,' nevertheless remains. "Gender stereotyping," observed Rollston, "is across the board and music is a microcosm of the world we live in."

There was broad agreement that for children to bridge gender stereotypes with regard to instruments, there is need for support from the education system, from parents and from teachers. "The intervention," said Flegg, "needs to be early."

The gender imbalance, as Cranitch pointed out, is also to be found in the jazz audience. "We're kind of stuck in this rut where it's still mostly male jazz musicians playing jazz for mostly male jazz audiences." One reason for this may go back to the question of role models, or lack thereof.

The discussion, which embraced questions and observations from the audience, finished on a positive note made by Cormac Larkin, jazz critic for the Irish Times, who drew the distinction between women in jazz and the feminine in jazz: "The old model of the virtuosic male display, beating his chest, is really dying, at least in European jazz... it may take a while for women to follow into the music in the same numbers but I think the feminine is on the rise in jazz.."

The day before, at the GJF 16' launch in The Kitchen, there were eight young women in the eleven-piece Headford Works jazz band, including the drummer, Deanna McDonagh, whose passion is rock music. For McDonagh, there are no gender restrictions when it comes to instruments. "There's nothing specifically for girls or boys," she stated with a refreshingly simple matter of factness. And her message for any young girl dreaming of being a drummer, a guitarist, trumpeter or indeed a jazz musican? "I'd just say go for it."

The nurturing of confidence, which McDonagh has in spades, is perhaps also key.

Sofa Session: F-JOB

The third of the Sofa Sessions brought F-JOB to the oyster bar of the Meyrick Hotel. Formed just over a year ago, bassist Cormac OBrien, drummer Matthew Jacobson and pianist Greg Felton represent three of Ireland's finest exponents of their respective instruments. From the opening groove- based blues of Keith Jarrett's "Late Night Willie," where O'Brien's spacious bass, Jacobson's brush-driven cymbal work and Felton's strolling improvisation meshed to delightful effect, the trio's deep chemistry was evident.

A brisk, boppish version of Gene de Paul's much travelled jazz standard "I'll Remember April" featured O'Brien at his most melodically inventive. A grand version of Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years," laced with gospel-blues ornamentation provided grist to the trio's improvisational mill. O'Brien's "Squirk" simmered with a sort of Thelonious Monk-esque logic—single-note piano runs and driving rhythms—while Jacobson's "Undone" steered the trio into ballad territory; a tremendously inventive drummer in bands like Umbra and AERIE, the allure of Jacobson's lyrically emotive tune lay in the spaces and in the economy of notes, which allowed the trio to breathe to quietly hypnotic effect.

Monk's "I, Me, You" (co-written by Coleman Hawkins) saw Matthew Berrill coaxed to the stage where he stretched out melodiously on alto saxophone, with the band whipping it up—with swing—for one last hurrah. F-JOB is a trio with bags of personality, where virtuoso playing is tempered by rich rhythmic textures strong melodies and a soulful collective voice.

Izumi Kimura

John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes—twenty pieces for prepared piano—remains one the American composer's crowning achievements, seventy years after he began composing it. Given the music's complexity—a very mathematical complexity that embraces traditions old and new, western and eastern—it requires a highly skilled technician to carry it off. Pianist Izumi Kimura is formidably armed to do Cage's epic work justice, having proven herself equally adept at classical, avant- garde and jazz piano.

Authenticity and quality of performance remains of paramount important to the Cage estate, a quarter of a century after the composer's death. When, for example, the Happy Days Enniskillen International Beckett Festival 2014 ambitiously staged Cage's Roaratorio, An Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake in Enniskillen's stunning Marble Arch Caves—a sprawling subterranean labyrinth as old as time itself—Cage's estate sent a team, from America to the bowels of Fermanagh, to ensure the sonic quality of the set-up before granting permission.

Therefore, the Cage estate would be satisfied to learn that Kimura's rendition of Sonatas and Interludes, in the Mick Lally Theatre before a rapt audience, took place on a Model A Steinway of 1939 vintage, one very similar to the sort of piano Cage would have used in composing the extended work between 1946 and 1948.

Perhaps to prepare the audience for Kimura's 'surgery' inside the piano's body, emcee Ciaran Ryan—a professional piano tuner—reminded the audience that Liszt and Rachmaninov were "beating the crap out of pianos, much more powerfully than most of the people playing today, a few Russians aside...."

For a shade under an hour, Kimura transmitted a whole universe of sounds from Cage's score. The performance perhaps lent itself best to absolute sonic contemplation and quite a few members of the audience listened with eyes closed. At times a music-box minimalism prevailed, but what was most remarkable for such a minimalist score was the variety of textures conjured -xylophone and marimba, wind-chimes, dampened bells and gamelan flavors.

Occasionally, Kimura's left-hand rhythms sounded convincingly like a hand drum, just one rhythmic texture in what was a dense rhythmic score, with the odd passages of ambient dissonance punctuating a tapestry of circular motifs—mantras almost—played out at varying speeds and almost always in the piano's high registers. Asian sonorities filtered through in melodies, trills and temple-gong effects -all effected by damped strings and pedal choices. European church bells resonated clearly, too.

Meditative, subtly provocative, impressionistic and consistently alluring, Kimura's wonderful rendition of Cage's Sonatas and Interludes earned the pianist a prolonged ovation. As an encore, Kimura played a brief piece in keeping with the mood of the previous hour.

With so many pianist's today exploring the piano's innards as a performative norm rather than for cheap effect, Cage's Sonatas and Interludes—like Duley's performance of Goldberg Variations the day before—seemed just a heartbeat away from jazz.

Joe O'Callaghan/Derek Whyte

Only a flight of stairs separated the space that Izumi Kimura had illuminated and the smaller, more intimate room upstairs at the Mick Lally Theatre, where the guitar- and-bass duo of Joe O'Callaghan and Derek Whyte—two of the finest exponents of their respective instruments in Ireland or anywhere else for that matter—awaited. For a little over an hour, O'Callaghan's six string acoustic and Whyte's five-string fretless embraced in thrilling celebration.

Launching from a brooding improvised platform, the duo eased into "Fragments," a simmering tale of slow-churning bass grooves and tremendously fleet guitar runs, where lead and support lines switched back and forth. Isham Jones/Marty Symes' 1936 standard "There is No Greater Love" fizzed with energy, while Jimmy Van Heusen/Eddie DeLange's 1939 standard "Darn That Dream" was dedicated to the memory of the great Louis Stewart, who passed away in August; on a tune beloved of Stewart, O'Callaghan seemed to channel the late Waterford-born guitarist's leisurely approach to balladry, spiced with dancing chordal progressions and intermittent virtuoso flourishes.

Greatest interest lay, however, in the original compositions; "Generation Grunge," O'Callaghan's spirited response to the halcyon days of grunge rock, and "Ole," a bluesy dialogue dedicated to prolific Cuban classical guitarist Leo Brouwer were highlights. An atmospheric duo improvisation set the tone for "The Road to Blackrock," where seamless unison lines bookended O'Callaghan's exhilarating solo play. Jaw-dropping stuff.


AERIE—a pan-European contemporary jazz quintet founded by German alto/soprano saxophonist Ingo Hipp—has built a solid reputation in its short career to date, with its debut (Neuklang Records, 2015) and its live shows across Europe garnering positive reviews. AERIE—a nest of a bird of prey—draws its strength from collective interplay and shifts in metre and volume rather than in a connected series of solos. On the dynamic opener, "Viper too Close," Hipp and tenor saxophonist Sam Comerford's alternatively sinewy and punchy unison motifs contrasted with guitarist Laurent Meteau's single note lines, while drummer Matt Jacobson and bassist Peedu Kass's sympathetic rhythms ebbed and flowed accordingly.

Ambient stirrings of arco, rumbling mallets and a softly voiced circular guitar motif announced "Whatever." Hipp's melodious excursion gradually took wings, pulling the quintet into denser sonic realms. Just as subtly as the music swelled, so too it receded, fading with Meteau's dreamily hypnotic guitar once more. Bold Morse riffs and pummelling drum patterns characterized "Trash is Bad for Fish" and would make a great theme to accompany a striding Darth Vadar. Fractured rhythm's and free blowing gave way to lyrical bowed bass and whispering guitar, but just when it seemed the wind had gone from the sails, unison saxophones re-energized the quintet for a final push.

New material from AERIE's forthcoming studio recording suggested a growing confidence in the writing, where hushed dynamics and space were employed as persuasively as the potent ensemble voice, where introspective lyricism and visceral charge, the poetic and the epic, went hand in glove.

An exciting band; one most definitely to watch out for.

Shakespeare Songs

The 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death has seen all kinds of tributes paid to the English bard, but arguably few quite as beautiful—at least in the musical sphere—as Shakespeare Songs, making a welcome return to Ireland following a nine-date tour in March.

Andy Sheppard, pianist Guillaume de Chassy and drummer Christophe Marguet wove a musical tapestry based on the French duo's song cycle inspired by characters and incidents from Shakespeare's most iconic plays, while Ali White read excerpts from the plays with requisite gravitas. The strength and depth of Shakespeare's characters was reflected in the emotional content of the music, the tension and release in de Chassy's quasi-orchestral arrangements. From the brooding lyricism and stormy rushes of "Perdita" to the slow-burning, heavy-pulse intensity of "Vengeance Will Not Take Place," the music sank its claws deep from the get- go.

A tryptic of songs based on Romeo and Juliet covered broad emotional terrain: pounding drums and probing piano/saxophone improvisations on "Capulets and Montagues Go Dancing"; Sheppard's keening, angst-ridden lines on "Othello's Tears"; elegance and power combined in "Juliet in the Mirror."

Familiarity with the plight and fate of Shakespeare's characters, whilst not essential to appreciate the music, certainly added to the experience. Hamlet's tortured mind was conjured in the restless percussion and edgy atmospherics of "Hamlet, in front of Himself," while Marguet's deft stick work evoked the rustling advance—as prophesized by the witches in Macbeth—of Burnam Wood moving to Dunsinane Hill, in the foreboding atmospherics of "Marching Forest."

Sheppard and de Chassy's lyricism on Marguet's gently melancholic "Cordelia"—a tone poem of Wayne Shorter-esque beauty—contrasted with the feisty trio interplay of "The Wrath of Caliban" that followed, with Marguet's tumultuous solo suggesting the wild, animalistic nature of Caliban. The meditative lyricism of de Chassy's "During the Night" set an elegant seal on a truly memorable set.

Mixtapes From the Underground

For night owls wishing to party, the Biteclub at midnight was the place to be. For here, and until well into the wee hours, Mixtapes from the Underground shook the walls with its vibrant hip-hop that encompassed elements of jazz—primarily though the strongly melodic trumpet playing of Bill Blackmore—and rhythms both urbane and roots-based. Thumpingly loud and booty-shakingly grooving, vocalists Jamel Franklin and Raven took turn about to deliver charged, intelligent critiques on identity politics and popular culture, challenging in the process the not uncommon image of hip-hop as low-brow entertainment.

DJ Harry Phipps and electronics sound sculptor Darragh O'Kelly—the latter of OKO fame—forged restless, arresting soundscapes while drummer Dennis Cassidy provided an animated rhythmic fulcrum.

Mixtapes from the Underground celebrates its tenth anniversary with a gig in Dublin's Workman's Club on 2 December; lovers of quality hip-hop, jazz-funk, dub and electronic— or any combination thereof—should make a beeline for Wellington Quay, Temple Bar for the big bash. An ear-splittingly good time is guaranteed.

Day 3

Boylan/Buckley/Evans Trio

The final day of GJF '16 got underway with pianist Cian Boylan, guitarist Hugh Buckley and double bassist Damian Evans in the convivial surroundings of Biteclub, where a good Sunday crowd enjoyed lunch, brunch and, no doubt for some, hair-o-the-dog the strains of popular music—as imagined through a jazz prism—from the 1920s to the 1970s.

The trio, which has been together on and off since 2007, played a swinging, soulful set of jazz standards, of which Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose" and George & Ira Gershwin's "But Not For Me" stood out for the trio's lyrical delivery. An eclectic set saw a lovely rendition of Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman"—popularized by Glen Campbell—and Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely," which featured a bewitching solo from the ever-impressive Buckley. The Rolling Stones "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," with Buckley channelling Wes Montgomery, rounded off a satisfying set.

Hackett/Evans/Blackmore Trio

A hop, skip and a jump across town, past the bustling Sunday artisan market, another trio drew from the standards repertoire, in the Salthouse—a delightfully intimate brew pub with around one hundred and twenty craft beers—including twenty three on tap—from around the world. What could be more heart-warming than supping on a glass of ale in good company while soaking up the sounds of jazz?

The Salthouse gigs on the Saturday and Sunday of GJF '16 were curated by guitarist Aengus Hackett, whose beautifully articulated solo on Miles Davis' "All Blues" set the tone for the session. Ballads, blues, swing and Broadway hits from yesteryear—Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" being a highlight—were played with an emotional nuance that likely had much to do with the intimacy of the locale itself.

Evans took time during the mid-set break to reminisce about the GJF, which he helped found in 2005, along with his wife Lorraine and Fidelma Mullane. The festival, like most small festivals, has gone through some tough times financially,—last year it was just a one-day event—but Evans is impressed with the strength of this edition: "I think this is the healthiest I've seen it. I think a festival is represented by its vibe really, by the atmosphere. It's about creating something special for a weekend and with everyone I've spoken to the buzz is fantastic. Everyone just seems to be so positive about the festival."

Izumi Kimura & Joe O'Callaghan

From the Salthouse to the even more intimate surroundings of Café Bodega—an enticing Spanish tapas bar in the heart of Galway's bustling port area—and a concert featuring two outstanding exponents of their respective instruments. Kimura and O'Callaghan had already given memorable performances at GJF '16—Kimura interpreting Cage, and O'Callaghan in a duo with Derek Whyte—and this performance turned out to be another gem.

With Kimura on an upright piano and O'Callaghan with a solid-body Gibson Chet Atkins guitar, the duo interpreted O'Callaghan's strikingly original compositions, which were all the more impressive given that these were the first he had ever written for piano. Liquid unison lines alternated with dashing solo runs of breath-taking virtuosity ("Something Ordinary"); avant leanings and robust melodies were two sides of the same coin ("Beyond") and even in the music's knottiest passages, there was always a sense of impending resolution.

Caressing lyricism bookended the Bill Evans-esque "Listening to Thought," with O'Callaghan exhibiting electrifying chops in between. Kimura was just as spellbinding on the impressionistic number that followed, mixing fire and grace in the intro; O'Callaghan followed suit with a bluesy solo that tumbled and soared. The breathless "Is That Moves," with its burrowing riffs and feverish lines that overlapped and then flew as one, upped the stakes even higher. The final number, "Reflections," moved from bucolic opening to feisty interplay, with Kimura leading the charge, stoked by O'Callaghan's rhythmic thunder.

A stunning duo performance, and for the lucky ones who squeezed into Café Bodega, undoubtedly a highlight of GJF '16. The good news is that Kimura and O'Callaghan are planning to go into the studio to record this transfixing music. If the word gets out, they could find themselves touring to the four corners of the world.


The final act of GJF '16 took place in the Mick Lally Theatre, where two bands from quite distinct traditions, yet sharing a similar aesthetic in a way, closed the festival in style. First up was Cuar, featuring double bassist and leader Neil O'Loghlen, clarinetist and GJF Artistic Director Mathew Berrill, and fiddler Aoife Ni Bhriain, who between them have played in some of Ireland's most innovative contemporary groups, including Ensemble Eriu, Crash Ensemble and The Irish Meomory Orchestra.

Cuar's vocabulary drew deeply from Irish traditional roots but with an aesthetic not a million miles away from the ECM Records label's more pastoral recordings.

From the gently persuasive opener, O'Loghlen's spare bass groove underpinned slow-waltzing clarinet and fiddle lines—independent but closely intertwined. The lines between composed and improvised passages, indeed between one tune and the next, were teasingly blurred as the music unfolded like a traditional set, with one melody and rhythm bleeding into the next.

Ni Bhriain carved out a haunting unaccompanied melody, soon to be joined in sympathetic counterpoint by Berrill, their intimate dialog, lilting yet ghostly, played out over O'Loghlen's bowed bass drone. Gradually, a new path emerged, with longer, drawn out notes floating ethereally over deftly plucked bass. Just at the point where the music seemed set to fade away, Ni Bhriain, followed by Berrill, injected a little pace, the bass responding to their heightened rhythms and greater melodic intensity. Subtly, the music dissipated once more, the lulling, dulcet song of Berrill's clarinet, buoyed by droning fiddle and bowed bass, drawing a line under a quietly mesmerizing performance.

Cuar, along with groups like The Gloaming and This is How We Fly, is redefining the possibilities of Irish traditional music and taking it—roots and branches—-into haunting, imaginatively fertile new terrain.

Christian Wallumrød

Even within the extraordinarily diverse and exciting contemporary Norwegian music scene, composer and pianist Christian Wallumrød stands out as an original voice. Minimalism has always been an intrinsic part of what drives Wallumrød, but compared to Outstairs (ECM, 2013), the material presented at GJF '16 from his latest album Kurzam and Fulger (Hubro, 2016) seemed sparer— austere even—though consistently beguiling.

A slow piano mantra punctuated by pockets of pregnant silence gave way to Per Oddvar Johansen'a quietly edgy percussive accents, subtly accompanied by Tove Törngren's pizzicato cello. A more insistent piano motif emerged, gradually subsumed by the ethereal drone of Espen Reinertsen's tenor saxophone, Elvind Lønning' s trumpet and Torngren's cello combined.

Short sequences of unified trumpet, harmonium and saxophone phrases over a ritual drum pattern evoked bare-bones hymnal architecture, which, by and by, evolved into a sustained passage of denser rhythmic and melodic intent, with repetition at is core. The sotto voce minimalism eventually ceded ground, however, to bolder patterns, with Wallumrød's striking juxtaposition of rhythmic piston and sparse melodic development casting a hypnotic spell.

The final number stemmed from a delightful piano motif built upon Wallumrød's dancing left-hand rhythm, with Johansen providing unwavering impetus. Saxophone, trumpet, cello and vibraphone then joined in a slowly climbing chorus that replaced the rhythm. This melodic section was short-lived, however, soon replaced by a piano-led passage—a repeated pair of motifs like slow-motion trills—of quiet abstraction and surprisingly extended duration -inducing a curiously hermetic atmosphere.

After a pause of several seconds, when absolute silence reigned in the room, the ensemble reunited in a processional passage of hymnal grandeur. Following a prolonged standing ovation the quintet returned with not one but three chiming triangles and Wallumrød's metronomic knocking on the piano lid. This was the prelude to another deceptively simple piano vamp, visited inevitably by pockets of silence. Harmonium, trumpet, cello and saxophone then delivered a final, sombre melody of austere beauty.

The Christen Wallumrød Ensemble set proved that less is sometimes a lot more, and provided the perfect conclusion to a wonderfully eclectic weekend of music.


All the ingredients came together over the weekend to serve up a GFJ to remember. Great local food and drink—ingredients not to be underestimated—punctuated a strong musical line-up, where the quality of local and national jazz/creative musicians shone just as brightly as the more internationally celebrated names on the program. GJF has always provided a platform for home-grown talent and it's to be hoped that as the festival moves forwards this cornerstone of its identity will remain just as strong, even while still attracting notable international names.

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