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Galway Jazz Festival
October 5, 2018
Thursday night's curtain rose on a brighter day, and a breeze blew gently down Galway's streets carrying the smell of the city on its back: petrol, coffee, sea-salt, cigarettes. Late-arrivers hurried down the cobbles to their workplaces. The growl of delivery vans filled the street between the businesses that line the main drag, spitting exhaust fumes that drifted up to the sky and were blown apart by the wind.
The day moved through its phases, following the sun's track across the sky from the Carpio, Drennan and O'Lochlain Trio's lunchtime gig at the Black Gate, through the afternoon's Polish Jazz Vinyl DJ Set in 1984 Miracles, and on to Eric Vloeimans
' show in the Mick Lally Theatre -an intimate venue tucked away down Druid Lane, a narrow, cobbled trail that juts off from Quay Street's bustle where silence hides itself from the wildness of Galway's city centre nightlife.
The auditorium's high, grey back wall loomed over Vloeimans' trio: himself on trumpet, Tuur Florizoone
on accordion, and Jorg Brinkmann
on cello. A greyness that the band used as a canvas. Painting vivid and cinematic tapestries across its wide blankness.
"Aladdin" set the tone. Evoking the bone-dry expanse of the title's Arabic homeland, Vloeimans wide and lamenting tone hung like sunlight over the snaking cello line. A line that became chordal, setting a firmer ground beneath the trumpet's feet. Vloeimans coaxed snake charmer-esque melodies out of his horn as hypnotic as the python Kaa's coils. Below these serpentine airs, Florizoone's accordion droned. Carrying the gossamery beauty of his bandmates' playing through solos and over volume swells and across treacherous pauses. Alighting at last on the gentle finale. A finish soft as the edges of a mirage.
On a rolling rhythm tapped out on the accordion's body, in a chariot with wheels of pizzicato cello chords, the strains of "Prince Henry" filled the room. The trumpet's tone was wide, and it spread out before the crowd like the horizon. Brinkmann started to strum the chords while the accordion filled the gap between brass and strings as echoes fill a cave. The trumpet-tone hardened. And the volume swelled like a wave preparing to break before it crashed into the accordion's solo. Vloeimans kept a rhythm with the atonal breaths he spat out of the trumpet's bell. Before he tightened his grip on the trigger. And fired out bursts of a single note. And far above the bowed cello's earth Vloeimans's trumpet-voice tightened and sharpened itself to a pinpoint. Flowing on to the wider and softer tones of the cadence. Moving through a rainbow of tone-colours brilliant as the hues of Bifröst, the old Norsemen's legendary rainbow-bridge between the realms of men, giants and gods. The link that connects the earthly with the fantastic and on to the godly as music does.
Through the 3/4 time of the following tune and the galloping rhythms of "Tonto," the trio moved. Before the stately intro of "Imagining" swept over the audience. And the cello moved up from the depths of quietness to join it with a bowed, very classical melody. Brinkmann's bow-hand flew passionately over the strings while his fretting fingers shot like lightning-bolts over the neck. Occasionally pulling wide vibrato out of a note. As if he were trying to milk all the subtleties from it. To extract the metal from its ore.
The trumpet sneaked in almost unnoticed. Its notes lying in wait beneath the passions of Brinkmann and Florizoone. Awaiting its chance to leap from the shadows cast by their vigour. To reach out and take its chance to shake the airwaves.
And then it entered not with a bang, but with the lyrical sparseness of a baked plain. In a tone pure as spring water, Vloeimans flicked between the notes quickly as Brinkmann downed his bow. So he could pick and strum the strings while Florizoone played huge wall-like chords. Building up only to come down for a slowed ending. And the return of Vloeimans's breathy, spare tone.
Over the funky accordion-rhythms and bebop runs of "Blues Bodies," the band came to their pre-encore finale. A tune called "Kwaheri," which means goodbye in Swahili. And it opened with the unmusical sound of air whooshing through the accordion's body. Mirroring the sound of the wind shimmering across the grass of Africa's savannahs.
The cello played a bluesy riff, and Vloeimans's tone moved from a wide and hazy tone to a harder, stonier sound. The accordion entered with notes like needle-jabs: high and pointed and piercing. And the band moved into mournful territory. A dramatic and suspenseful soundscape that supported a duel between cello and trumpet. Each player inventing lines that only served to heighten the inspiration of his opponent. But as the trumpet's voice widened yet again, and the cello slid up the neck, Eric Vloeimans's trio moved to their final note. A low, dark, cadence.
The encore was called "Small Girl." It entered on the accordion's repeated note. A note that shouldered the cello's melody before that retreated into a pizzicato bass line upon the trumpet's entry. After that melancholy start of bowed cello and accordion the track picked up a groove and started to roll. Moving over its volume ascensions and gradually picking up speed. Until the trumpet joined in unison with the accordion and the air tightened with anticipation before it broke suddenly and sharply. The tune came to a halt. And the show ended at its close as if someone had robbed the fire of oxygen. Releasing the rapt crowd from the flames' spell.
In the Salthouse, over in the west side of town, Aengus Hackett
was leading the session he had curated. While on the east side, Julien Colarossi
and John Keogh
played in Biteclub. And somewhere behind the set stage of An Taibhdhearc, Liane Carroll
readied herself for her set. A set void of any pretensions or egotism and instead full of virtuosity and fun. The former a quality lauded by jazz-folk. And the latter often scorned as trite.
Before her backing duo -Cormac OBrien
on double bass and Dominic Mullan
on drums -joined her onstage, Carroll accompanied herself on the piano. Alone at the keys and lit by a sole spotlight, she opened with "Almost Like Being In Love." Surfing the rapid pace to an unaccompanied scat-singing solo that glittered brilliantly beneath that light. It was a short, sharp opening. That set the tone of virtuosic joy that pervaded the show. Getting the hot blood pumping on a cold October's night.
"Seaside," moved by on sound waves gentle as the tides that rock docked boats. Combining a cinematic, distinctly English lyric with American soul. A contrastingly jaunty rendition of Donald Fagen
's "Walk Between The Raindrops" followed. And Carroll led the crowd through the vivid images of the lyric as masterfully as its lovestruck couple dodged the rainfall. Her chordal piano solo contrasted with her melismatic vocals. A juxtaposition that far from pushing the audience away, led them by the heartstrings. Drawing the fistful of people closer as a good story would around a campfire. Tom Waits
's "Take It With Me" was recast as a gentler tune in Carroll's hands. She pushed the tempo up just slightly, so that the lyrics sprang to life with the freedom afforded by the quickened pace. And when she paused her piano-playing, giving the silence a chance to speak, it only emphasised the beautiful, clashing return chord. A chord delivered in her bucking throes of passion.
A long, winding medley brought the crowd on a journey through Carroll's smiling introduction into Leonard Cohen
's "Suzanne" on to "Summertime and beyond to "My Favourite Things." And thereafter the O'Brien and Mullan joined her onstage. Ushering themselves in with the shuffling hi-hat beat of Cole Porter
's "Love For Sale." The groove hardened beneath the bursts of scat signing that Carroll fired into the crowd throughout the tune. She ran her fingers through the piano solo, straying away from the block chords of the previous solo in "Walk Between The Raindrops." And just as the medley had twisted and turned on its course Carroll twisted and turned on the piano stool. Heading purposefully onwards to the song's big finish on a suspenseful minor chord. Where its echoes hung like silken strands on the air.
A mean, snaking groove transformed into a friendlier bounce as the band worked their way through "Autumn Leaves" and on through "You Don't Know Me" to the rapid-fire pace of Laura Nyro's "California Shoeshine Boys." O'Brien took a smooth bass solo that culminated with a ringing, high harmonic, met head-on by the brilliance of Mullan's hi-hat rhythms. Carroll brought in the grand finale by saying "We'll do that last bit one more time." And the song ended on a triumphant, fun close.
"Honeysuckle Rose" entered with only bass and drums. With sharp interjections on the snare drum. And as the band moved through the bass solo, the piano came in with quiet, subdued chords. Before it joined in earnest as the drums commenced their solo. Leaving subtle, tasty gaps to be filled by the bass drum's interpolations. They moved back to the first verse and the piano dropped out once again. So the tune ended softly. Clearing the air for the funky, grooving following track and Carroll's successive version of "I Got Rhythm." Where the vocals and piano duelled with the drums and a huge, stunning chord ushered in the tom's rolls that carried in the song's finish. Another grand finale before the second Tom Waits song of the evening claimed the airspace: "Picture In A Frame."
The band entered at the bridge after Carroll's high, piano-accompanied melismas. And as one, they moved into another chordal piano solo from Carroll, spiced with interspersed runs and little glissandi. The brushed snare rattled gently beneath the soulful -but not overdonevocals. Laying a firm, solid ground for the gentle finish. The finish that brought the show to its pre-encore end. Before the band returned to the stage for the encore of the immortal "Sinnerman." A finale as thrillingly alive as the quickened pulse in each member of the audience.
Atop the root-to-fifth bass line and rapid snare-drum beat, Carroll thumped at the keys and rocked through her piano solo. A thrilling scat solo chased the piano's with the bass's cadenza hot on its heels -a call and response with the piano. And O'Brien's ear-catching accents laid the foundation for the arresting pauses in Mullan's snare-drum rhythms and the bass drum's accompanying emphases. Then as one, purposeful unit, the three musicians let a dramatic pause fill the theatre, Before the rhythm returned to rock the audience through to the song's, and the show's, finish. When the audience was let out into the dry, Autumn-evening darkness.
At 10:00PM Huw Warren
would tread the boards in the Mick Lally Theatre. Plucking at the exposed strings of his piano in the throes of his passion as Dublin's Shy Mascot moved the gathered bodies in Biteclub. The music drifted to the heavens on the nighttime air. Singing the praises of its performers and of this small Irish city's jazz festival. A festival born of, and purveying in, passion.