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Galway Jazz Festival 2016

Ian Patterson By

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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.

Antal

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.

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