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Live Review

Galway Jazz Festival 2019

Galway Jazz Festival 2019

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A good festival, like Galway Jazz Festival, opens up the heart. Journeys of the heart are important.
—Leo Hallissey, Educator, festival curator, activist
Galway Jazz Festival 2019
Various venues
Galway, Ireland
October 2-6, 2019

Bat song may be a first at a jazz festival, but then they do things differently here in Galway. Bats were in and plastic was out. No plastic laminates or cable ties, no plastic on outdoor advertising, no plastic wrapping on backstage food, and no plastic bottles were permitted by the organizers of GJF19. With carbon footprint awareness the name of the game even the festival programme was printed with one hundred per cent vegetable oil-based inks. One in the eye for the petroleum industry.

Greta Thunberg would have been proud of the GJF19's efforts to do its bit for the planet, though she might be surprised to learn that her dog Roxy provided the inspiration for a piece of theatre/musical improv featuring actor and human rights activist Donal O'Kelly—one of three commissioned works by the festival. The other two, featuring singer Lauren Kinsella and harpist Una Monaghan, threw improvisational spanners of the best kind into the world of Irish traditional music.

Musically, GJF19 was as diverse as the city's culinary offerings. From swinging piano trio and funk quartet to big band jazz, and from solo guitar to vocal jazz standards— there was a little of everything. David Lyttle's Drum 'n' Tapes saw the Irish language serve as a launching pad for the drummer's real-time improvisation. Kaja Draksler and Eve Risser explored composed and improvised dialog on two pianos. Renaud Garcia-Fons and Claire Antonini married double bass and medieval theorbo, while contemporary gamelan, hip-hop and electronic experimentation lent a modernist sheen to GJF19.

The bandoneon was centre stage with Daniele di Bonaventura, whose quartet visited international songs of resistance. Modern jazz put its best foot forward with Trish Clowes' My Iris. Hardanger fiddler Nils Økland's quintet blurred the boundaries between Nordic tradition and innovation while the inimitable Sue Rynhart served up her potent brew of sung-poetry and jazz-spun folklore. Guitarist Andreas Varady showed why he was, in 2011, the youngest musician ever to headline London's Ronnie Scott's.

Almost sixty performances over four days were held throughout Galway in theaters, cultural centers, pubs, restaurants, churches, shops, and Galway University Hospital. Whilst GJF19 could boast plenty of international glamour, the healthy number of Irish artists was testament to the festival's belief in, and support of, Ireland's deep well of creative talent.

Workshops, jazz film, climate-related book talk, record fair and tree-planting made for an action packed, varied and sociable weekend that not even the threat of Storm Lorenzo, barreling in over The Atlantic Ocean, could upstage.

And the bats? The Galway Bat Group led a dusk tour through the bat's stomping ground, the creatures' high-frequency chatter picked up by special electronic detectors. This educational outing was part of GJF19's commitment to preserving and protecting the natural environment. First awareness, then action.

The five-day festival pulled away the chocs on Wednesday. This report covers events from day two.

Thursday, 3rd October

Nourishment for Heart and Mind

The official opening of GJF19 took place in The Kitchen where, as has become traditional, the Headford Music Works Ensemble regaled everyone with a few jazz standards. This thirteen-piece string and brass ensemble was joined by David Lyttle on drums and Cormac McCarthy on piano. Saxophonist Matthew Berril, one of the main figures behind GJF, led the group in a polished collective performance, with vocalist/trumpeter Catriona Murphy taking the lead on "Autumn Leaves" and Roisin Mulliez shining on "Summertime."

GJF Artistic Director Ellen Cranitch then introduced activist and environmentalist Leo Hallissey to address the informal gathering. For the past thirty-five years Hallissey has run the Conamara Bog and Sea Weeks in Letterfrack, festivals that bring together all manner of creative artists, scientists and chefs together in a celebration of nature, creativity, respect and kindness.

"Every young person has the right to be involved in the arts," Hallissey said, going on to express his simmering anger at the notion that the arts have somehow to be justified. Walking into Charlie Byrne's bookstore in Galway town centre, Hallissey described stumbling upon Roisin Mulliez singing "Bye Bye Blackbird." It was, he said, a very poignant moment because as a race we are saying lots of goodbyes, to numerous species across the planet, to major habitats, goodbyes to entire cultures. These are, he reminded the listeners, dangerous and threatening times.

In the face of such negative developments, there is ever greater need for spiritual nourishment and activism. That can come from the arts and from taking care of the environment. Even the smallest gestures, Hallissey said, taken collectively, can move mountains. A good festival, like Galway Jazz Festival, opens up the heart, Hallisey said. "Journeys of the heart are important."

Lauren Kinsella—Saoirse

It was a journey of the heart and mind for acclaimed singer Lauren Kinsella in this commissioned work for GJF19. Challenged to explore traditional Conamara sean-nós— the ancient tradition of unaccompanied singing—through a jazz prism, Kinsella had to go back to her Irish language roots to tackle traditional songs such as "Roisin Dubh," "Uileacan Dubh O" and "Maire Ni Eidhin."

Eighteen months of study with singer Saileog Ni Cheannabhain paid handsome dividends, with Kinsella, backed by saxophonist Tom Challenger, violist Benedict Taylor and Kit Downes on pianist/harmonium, delivering a hypnotic performance in the An Taibhdhearc theatre.

Kinsella's caressing lyricism on these songs of love and yearning was softly buoyed by gently lapping harmonium drones, susurrus tenor saxophone incantation and wispy viola colorings.

Kinsella, however, is not one given to following the easiest path and she steered the songs into less easily mapped, and altogether darker terrain. Her vocal improvisations—stream-of-consciousness, non-syllabic voicings—were punctuated by pristine soaring notes and her diversions invited diverse responses from her colleagues— brooding and introspective on the one hand, fractured and feverish on the other.

Like an expert seamstress Kinsella wove the contrasting threads of tradition and innovation to conjure a striking sonic tapestry, boldly original in concept, haunting in its stark beauty.


Galway is a compact city and all twenty-one venues hosting gigs at GJF19 were within easy walking distance. It was a mere hop and a skip from An Taibhdhearc to Black Gate Cultural Centre, where Carole Nelson and Maria Walshe, aka Zrazy, beguiled the basement audience with a lesson in the art of the duo.

Honing their craft for over thirty years, pianist Nelson and singer/percussionist Walshe are the real deal. Award-winning and globe-trotting, they have earned the right after three decades to pick and choose their gigs. It was something of a privilege, therefore, to catch the duo in such an intimate venue.

Sparkling technical chops and pronounced empathy besides, Zrazy also boasts first-rate songs. The epic, blues-inflected "U Can" could have come from the pen of Jimmy Webb, while the duo was equally at home delving into sunny funk, deft balladry and radio-friendly pop tunes. GJF Artistic Director Ellen Cranitch brought her flute to the party on a couple of numbers, her jazz and funk improvisations on "Rain" and "Hot Sun" juicing things up. Not that the star duo lacked spark. On the contrary, Nelson's spicy rhythms and melodious soloing were a constant joy, while Walshe's grooving percussive rhythms would make way for sassy flute and harmonica improvisations.

Introducing the slow-grooving blues-funk set-closer "Down With Jazz," Walshe read an extract from a 1934 letter penned by The Gaelic League and addressed to the Irish government. It denounced jazz as being "against Christianity, learning and the spirit of nationality." It urged clean-living Irish "to boycott foreign dances." The memory of the Catholic Church's anti-jazz movement of the 1930s lives on in a sense, as it has now inspired a jazz festival and a song of the same name.

As long as there are musicians and songwriters as cool and provocative as Nelson and Walshe then music will always trump the Church and State party-poopers, the ultra-nationalists and xenophobes. As one audience member remarked during the standing ovation: "That was way more fun than mass."

Friday 4th

Una Monaghan and Pauline Scanlon

Una Monaghan has more strings to her bow than there are strings in her harp, working in a wide variety of settings whose common denominator is experimentation and the pushing of traditional boundaries.

Laptop drone underpinned ethereal melody in the simple though affecting opening number. From using technology as enhancement, Monagahan progressed to interacting with a computer programme in a sort of improvisational call and response. Signals from a motion sensor glove triggered sonic patterns from the computer, which in turn provoked improvisation from the harpist.

Guest vocalist Pauline Scanlon, a traditional Irish singer, joined Monaghan on a three-part suite in response to the gender imbalance in Irish traditional folk music. Statistics, the recorded experiences of Irish female musicians, and the poetry of Maureen Boyle fused in a powerful—and shocking— fifteen-minute protest number that called out misogyny, sexism and the institutional discrimination against women in Irish traditional music circles.

Translating the 2017 statistics into musical notes, Monaghan demonstrated via a tune and the 'sharing' of notes, the much higher proportion of male artists (86%) compared to female artists (14%) represented on Irish trad festival stages. The tune representing women's participation was minimalist indeed. Major award winners in music categories and the leaders of sessions trails during the week, it came as no surprise, were nearly all men.

Scanlon sang Boyle's "Weathervane," with its echoes of the scandalous Magdalene Laundries, where single Irish mothers were robbed of their infants and subjected to forced labor. She then related first-hand accounts of women's experiences in the Irish trad scene, where patronizing and dismissive comments by male peers were the least of the outrages. The third part of the suite was a ghostly mix-tape of famous Irish songs melting into one another.

The final composition in a riveting set featured a sound collage of elderly folk chatting, spliced with Monaghan's harp. With computer and motion sensor glove once again acting in tandem, Monaghan brought together timeless oral tradition, centuries-old harp sonorities and twenty first century technology to conjure a genuinely moving soundscape.

The obstacles facing women in Irish traditional music as described by Monaghan and Scanlon would have sounded very familiar to women jazz musicians at any point in the past century, and to some degree, still today. The panorama has changed for the better in jazz, it has to be said, with more women leading bands, writing music, playing major stages, curating festivals and appearing on the covers of jazz magazines than ever before. There is still some distance to travel, however, before jazz can live up to its boast as a democratic music, one of freedom and equality.

Catch The Lemon

Even those who didn't know there was a jazz festival going on in Galway will hardly have been able to avoid it, with free jazz gigs enlivening packed pubs, coffee shops and restaurants at all hours of the day. One of Galway's most popular drinking venues, Blue Note—a pub with a live music space —was packed to the rafters early on Friday evening for Catch The Lemon. Keyboardist Jos Kelly, bassist Bruno Pierucci, drummer Brian Gosker and guitarist Alvaro Soto delivered a blistering set that proudly raised the flags of jazz funk and jazz rock.

Imaginative reworkings of Oscar Peterson's defiant "Hymn to Freedom," Billy Cobham's uber-catchy "Snoopy's Search/Red Barron" and The Metres' funk classic "Cissy Strut" looked to the past, while a vibrant take on Nate Smith's "Skip Step" brought the funk dial racing up to the present. The musicianship was first rate and both musicians and crowd were having a ball.

Andreas Varady Trio

Not too many fourteen-year old musicians can hold their own with Martin Taylor but Andreas Varady did just that back in 2011. Even before that the Slovak-Hungarian of Romani descent was marked out for the big time when, aged just thirteen, he became the youngest ever headliner at Ronnie Scott's.

Since then Varady has gone on to work with Louis Stewart, Andreas Oberg, Lee Ritenour, Soweto Kinch, and more recently in a duo with David Lyttle, who gave Varady his first recording break on their co-led Questions (Lyte Records, 2010).

For this gig Varady was joined by father Bandi Varady on double bass and younger brother Adrian Varady on drums—the same team—minus pianist Benito Gonzalez— that recorded the guitarist's Quest (Resonance Records, 2018).

From the first bars of the Pat Metheny-esque "Her Dream" Andreas unfurled one immaculate solo after another. Bandi played the anchor role, while Adrian, who took a couple of numbers to loosen up, gave a bustling, powerhouse performance. It was refreshing to hear so much new music in Andreas's set, with several tunes yet to be baptized.

The guitarist's practically flawless solos were bursting with ideas. The outstanding example came in the second number of the second set. On this untitled new tune Andreas Varady roamed the length and breadth of his fretboard for several captivating minutes, constantly seeking the impetus of fresh terrain. The frequent and widespread comparisons with Kurt Rosenwinkel are not made lightly.

Perhaps the concert as a whole would have benefited from greater contrasts in dynamics—greater variation in pace, an unaccompanied number, or even a little more spotlight on the bass. Yet it's easy to forget that, at twenty-one, and despite having gigged for almost ten years, Andreas Varady is still really only starting out. On this sort of form, though, it's scary to think what he might yet achieve.

Renaud Garcia-Fons and Claire Antonini

There are occasions when musicians, instruments, material and venue combine to create an experience that transcends the mere playing-listening contract between those on stage and those before it. The concert of double bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons and theorbo player Claire Antonini in the Black Gate Cultural Centre provided one of those rare, transporting occasions.

The venue wasn't entirely ideal. The chatter from the Black Gate Cultural Centre's bar upstairs filtered through the curtain acting as a door to the basement room. The wooden stairs creaked every time people came or went. The wooden chairs creaked every time someone shifted. Only in the front row could you get a good view of the musicians. And yet the intimacy of the event, with the audience of forty-odd people and the musicians within touching distance, made for a special communion.

Garcia-Fons' arco intro, tapping the strings to make a trilling effect as his fingers blurred across the bass's neck, already had people shaking their heads in wonder. This was the intro to "Nove alla Turca," a whirlwind of Kurdish and Balkan melodies wrapped up in a Turkish rhythm in nine beats. Shades of Rodrigo and Paganini suggested themselves, but likely everyone will have imagined their own traces of a Mediterranean melody here, a Baroque or Middle Eastern rhythm there.

Antonini played beautifully too, though her role—at least in comparison to Garcia-Fons' protagonism—was often decorative, playing unison on the melodic heads and supplying subtle counterpoint. Her solo excursions were short and elegant, such as on lightly dancing "Comme un derviche amoureux," but it was undoubtedly the duo's chemistry that spun the magic. And Garcia-Fons' staggering virtuosity aside, this was essentially a joint celebration of melody, harmony and narratives.

On"Reng-e-shortor" Garcia-Fons and Antonini led the audience from Kurdish rhythms inspired by a camel's steps to the European courts of the early baroque period via a piece by German-Italian composer Giovanni Kapsperger, who Garcia-Fons described as "the Jimi Hendrix of the theorbo." The poetry of Jalal al-Din Rumi and Malek Jan Ne'mati inspired the duo's lyricism, and there was poetry in abundance in Garcia-Fons' singing bass, whether bowed, plucked or caressed. In his hands the double bass sang like a viola. Compelling too, his flamenco-style percussion solo on the instrument's body.

Two encores felt like a lottery win. The seventeenth century Spanish guitarist Gaspar Sanz' "Canarios" paved the way for a colourful bouquet of Cuban guajira, rumba flamenca and, in conclusion, a brief tune inspired by traditional Kurdish melody and rhythm.

This sumptuous musical feast left no appetite for further music that night, and the crowd, high on Garcia-Fons and Antonini's multi-cultural potion, dispersed into Galway's altogether more raucous, Friday-night streets.

Saturday 5th

Roxy's Head Is Melted

Talking dogs? In actor and human rights activist Donal O'Kelly's world all is possible.

The second commissioned work for GJF19 was a tremendous piece of jazz-theatre surrealism that saw O'Kelly, in the guises of various street dogs, philosophize, rant and rave on the state of the world in The Norm, though what passes for The Norm these days isn't always clear.

Chief among the dogs was teen activist Greta Thunberg's dog Roxy, who, believe it or not, came from the Cork Dog Action Welfare Group. O'Kelly, aided and abetted by Ellen Cranitch on piano, bass, flute and tin whistle, and Brian Fleming on assorted percussion, incarnates Roxy and three other dogs besides -a chihuahua, an Irish Wolfhound and a Basset Hound.

They gather at a pissing pole in The Norm and riff on affairs of import: American soldiers transiting unofficially through Shannon airport in the hundreds of thousands; fracked gas imported from America to Ireland to be sold on to European neighbors; refugees; oil dependency; the God of money; the accelerating speed of change. Could this really be how things are in The Norm?

O'Kelly delivers the heady, forty-five-minute poem as an orchestrated score, though with a jazz improviser's liberty. Imagine the bastard child of William Burroughs and J.P. Dunleavy with a noirish soundtrack by Tom Waits and you may, or may not, begin to get the picture.

There was a fairly small crowd in the Mick Lally Theatre for this world premiere of Roxy's Head is Melted, which will likely have come as a slight disappointment to the GJF19 organizers. They should take heart, however, from having the vision and courage to enable such an original work in the first place. The standing ovation that greeted O'Kelly and the musicians was a ringing endorsement of their faith.

With its topical themes, cartoon-esque satire and an unforgettable, deeply nuanced performance from O'Kelly, Roxy's Head Is Melted has all the ingredients for a successful nationwide tour. A wild and brilliant ride that will leave your head melted.

Bog Bodies

Over at the Black Gate Cultural Centre they were turning people away from the door for Roisin Mulliez' gig. There had been a bit of a buzz beforehand about the young singer, who is studying jazz at DCU, Dublin, and clearly, she already has a fan base in Galway. There was no more luck at Coffeewerk and Press for Joe O'Callaghan, but as the upstairs broom cupboard had seating for three and standing room for maybe only a dozen more that one was always going to be tricky.

There was time for a quick bite on the hoof before returning to the Mick Lalley Theatre for the third commissioned work by GJF19. Bog Bodies is the-ongoing collaborative project of drummer Sean Carpio, guitarist Anders Holst and saxophonist Robert Stillman. It's first recording, Sligo (2015) was part of a multi-media project inspired by landscape and natural sounds.

This Bog Bodies project was made possible with the support of Interface Inagh, an artists' residency in the Inagh valley, a rugged part of the world that sits between the Twelve Bens and the Maamturk Mountains. For this performance the trio was joined by Sharon Phelan on electronics. As Carpio explained prior to commencing, the exact course the music would take was unknown to all concerned.

Washing cymbals like the North Atlantic Ocean sounded over ambient textures of electronic drone and faint guitar effects. The droning, meditative nature of the music was a constant factor though explosions of cymbals and little stampedes of rumbling mallets gave the music an edge. Sustained saxophone notes blended with guitar in choral harmony.

Responding to each other's impulses, and perhaps the acoustics of the room, the music gradually loosened up took open form. Roaming saxophone ignited drums and the two danced and tussled for a while. Field recording of bird song induced a brief lull before Stillman picked up where he left off, embarking on a more animated excursion.

Almost imperceptibly, the four musical elements merged as of a single voice, a continual exhalation that shimmered like a haze. In the final stretch, Carpio's shaman-like shakers and bass drum accents underpinned understated saxophone mutterings, electronically processed noise and serene, pedal-filtered guitar. Gradually, the music petered out, leaving only cymbals and effects that seemed to mimic the eternal symphony of breaking waves, hissing of sea spray and the embrace of the wind.

Though the musicians were clearly attuned to the slightest pulses and modulations, the electronic component was often so subtle as to be something of a mystery. In the end, however, how the music was received was just as personal a journey for the audience members as for those who delivered it. A beautiful, meditative journey that subtly evoked the wildness and serenity of nature.

Lise-Lotte Norelius and Soren Runolf

In the intimate upstairs space of the Mick Lalley, experimental electro-acoustic improvisers Lise-Lotte Norelius and Soren Runolf, aka the Welfare Orchestra, explored a world of sound possibilities with an array of laptops, sequencers, modulators, vibrating devices and any number of funky electronic gadgets. All were connected by a spaghetti of wires and the whole thing probably took a lot longer to set up than the forty-minute duration of the performance.

Ironic, that as the sun emerged outside after two days of rain and wind courtesy of Storm Lorenzo, synthesized sounds coupled with actual field recordings replicated the lashing rain and howling wind. There was it seemed, not even psychological escape from the dreaded weather. The duo was fresh from an Artists-in-Residence programme at Interface Inagh. The Conamara landscape had clearly made an impression, judging by the two lumps of turf on Norelius' desk with wires protruding from them. Quite what song they sang in the shifting sonic panorama was unclear.

Not unlike Bog Bodies concept, the evolving sounds washed over the audience, taking people who knows where, but taking them out of themselves. Nobs were twiddled, laptops manipulated and for a few fun minutes Runolf ran a violin bow over lumps of polystyrene, the sounds later reappearing through various filters electronic. All the while a sound like wind swirling in a chimney formed a strangely pulsing backdrop.

Resonators on two aluminium takeaway trays conjured white noise that drowned out all else for several minutes. It acted as a kind of crescendo to the performance, before the sound of wind chimes and rain brought quiet resolution.

Trish Clowes—My Iris

Headlining Saturday evening at the Mick Lally Theatre was composer, educator, curator and human rights activist Trish Clowes. The saxophonist led her My Iris quartet through an impressive set drawn mainly from Ninety Degrees Gravity (Basho Records, 2019).

It was with "One Hour" followed seamlessly by "I Can't Find My Hairbrush" from My Iris (Basho Records, 2017), however, that Clowes introduced her band featuring guitarist Chris Montague, drummer James Maddren and pianist/keyboardist Ross Stanley.

In an interview with All About Jazz Clowes spoke of the chemistry that exists in her My Iris quartet and the range of textures and colors they inspire in each other. This was evident during the twenty-minute opening salvo , as the music passed from ethereal soundscapes to angular rhythms, punctuated by sinewy solos of contrasting character from Clowes on tenor saxophone, Montague and Stanely.

More rhythmically dynamic still was "Eric's Tune," Clowes bristling tribute to drummer Eric Kamau Gravatt of Weather Report fame. After the storm there was calm, with Clowes' tender arrangement of Mike Walker's poem "Under Your Wing." Clowes is a compelling saxophonist, one who can shift from pronounced lyricism to meaty improvisation, as on the impressive "Abbot and Costello."

"Amber"— dedicated to Amber Bower, founder of the charity Donate 4 Refugees, for whom Clowes is an ambassador—was an energetic collective workout, peppered with fine solos. The set concluded on a high note with "Free to Fall," an episodic number that highlighted individual chops, the quartet's intuitive interplay, and Clowes' considerable talents as a writer and arranger. This is a band going places.

Kaja Draksler/Eve Risser

Slovenian pianist Kaja Draksler and French pianist Eve Risser are two of Europe's most progressively minded musicians on the contemporary jazz/improvised music scene. Both leaders of their own projects, it can be quite the logistical challenge to get them in the same room together.

It had been two years since the duo launched its To Pianos (Clean Feed, 2017) at the European Jazz Conference in Ljubliana, with a memorable concert in the round, so it was interesting to see how their concept had developed.

The musicians sat at their respective pianos, facing directly opposite one another. The chiming-bells-like unison introduction of "Dusk" was a familiar launching pad, as was their gradual peeling apart by working at slightly different tempos. This resulted in deliberately disjointed overlapping themes. A gradual reduction in intensity was the start of a quiet, spare exchange, one characterized by lyricism and abstraction in equal measure.

Draksler and Risser's performance was a meeting between through composed frames and improvised interiors. The former were starting points and perhaps signposts along the way, but like two kids unable to resist poking the fire, the sparks would soon fly in every direction imaginable.

The percussive possibilities of the pianos were explored gleefully, with abundant use of prepared piano techniques. Pegs, stones and random objects damped the strings, evoking here the banging of metal pots, or there the earthy bass tone of an Asian zither. At one point, Risser drew a stick across the piano strings, while at the other end Draksler employed mallets. On a hypnotic slice of minimalism both musicians attached resonators to the strings that caused high-pitched drones.

Whether conducting their dialog with the bare minimum of vocabulary or with expansive, and usually dramatic gestures, rhythm was a key element in steering the music throughout the performance. Communication was chiefly exercised through the keys, with just the occasional glance or nod of the head to indicate a new direction. The encore was built around an austere and somewhat dark motif, with restless manipulation of damped strings providing contrast and tension.

Technically demanding, Draksler and Risser's idiom also worked continually on an emotional level. The level of concentration required on both scores by the musicians must have been quite draining for them. This adventure in sound was a bold programming choice, though by now, the sort of thing that we've come to expect from the GJF.

Sunday 6th

In keeping with the sustainability theme of GJF19 a small but dedicated crew pitched up in the garden of St. Nicholas' cemetery to bed plants and hang bee houses. The Vestry of St. Nicholas kindly gave over keeping of its memorial garden to GJF, and after several sacks had been filled with debris from the bed— plastic bottles, lighters, nails, glass, bottle tops, ring pulls, syringes, you name it—a number of flowering plants were safely embedded in their new home.

Two bee houses were hung from a tree and all the while the workers were serenaded by the Galway Flower and Tree Planting Celebration Jazz Band. A few nature-loving souls from the community also lent their assistance, including two South Korean women who were studying the Alexander Technique in the city. Plans were already foot for the musicians and the therapists to parlez at a future date.

For those unable to rouse themselves from their pits that early in the morning, there was a contingency plan. In what was possibly a unique touch in the annals of jazz festivals, the GJF19 programme contained the gift of flowering seeds, held in specially designed paper that goes straight into the earth. Small actions by many people....

The London Gay Big Band

One band who took its responsibility to the environment very seriously indeed was the London Gay Big Band, who made special efforts to offset its travel from the English capital to Galway. Not only did they succeed but they presented the certificate to prove it. Rumors abounded that they swam across the Irish Sea.

The LGBB, in fact seven instrumentalists—maybe the offset involved leaving thirteen more at home—entertained the Sunday brunch audience at Electric with a tight, swinging set of jazz classics and more besides. A packed house chowed down on soul food and enjoyed a drink while a few even danced to the music.

Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" kicked things off in style. Vocalist Lara de Belder stepped up for Juan Tizol's "Take the A-Train" and delivered an Amy Winehouse-influenced version of "The Girl from Ipanema." The crowd seemed set for an enjoyable lunchtime jazz session, but for this reviewer a very important seat was waiting elsewhere.

Joe O'Callaghan

Despite turning up at Coffeewerk Press half an hour early for Joe O'Callaghan's second gig of the festival, it was too late -all three seats had already been taken. Standing it was. However, that's not such a hardship when you're part of a very intimate audience for one of the world's greatest guitarists. O'Callaghan's main gig is currently a trio with Izumi Kimura and Derek Whyte, but his solo gigs are truly special occasions.

A one-hour set was book-ended with bewitching interpretations of two Irish staples—"Danny Boy" and "She Moved Through the Fair." In between, O'Callaghan presented his own highly original compositions and the odd standard. The common denominator throughout was the guitarist's dazzling technique. Yet even in the heat of his most feverish runs there was a musicality, a heightened melodic and rhythmic sense that evoked John McLaughlin.

O'Callaghan paid heartfelt tribute to the late Louis Stewart with an imaginative arrangement of Jimmy Van Heusen/Eddie DeLange's "Darn That Dream" that took the audience on a thrilling ride into the unknown. O'Callaghan's originals were cut from a more contemporary cloth but were no less captivating. "Fragments" and "Reflections," both saw the guitarist tear into echo-drenched, bluesy runs over looped ostinatos.

From first note to last of this free gig O'Callaghan cast a wicked spell. The audience may have been small, but it was witness to a mesmerizing performance from a world-class guitarist. An absolute highlight of GJF19.

Sue Rynhart

Since her self-produced debut Crossings: Songs for Voice and Double Bass (2015) Dubliner Sue Rynhart has built a reputation as one of the most original singer/songwriters to have come out of Ireland for many years. Initially performing in a duo with double bassist Dan Bodwell, Rynhart has sought additional textures in recent times, notably with multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi. For this GJF19 gig, Rynhart and Bodwell were joined by drummer Matthew Jacobson, who brought a dynamic new element to the music.

Exuding confidence, Rynhart delivered her curious blend of surrealist folk and jazz-inflected poetry with joy and calm authority. Homer's Odyssey may have provided the title for "Wine Dark Sea," but lyrically and melodically this was pure Rynhart—enigmatic and alluring. Bodwell's bowed bass and Jacobson's rumbling mallets provided the perfect foil on this modern-day fairy tale.

New songs blended well with old, Rynhart's openness to all influences meaning no two songs sounded the same. Half a dozen tuned hand bells were distributed around the audience and, on cue, made a glorious shower of sound on "Penny for Your Thoughts"—a tender love letter to a new-born, bearing the line: 'A day can feel like a lifetime— when it's your first.'

The final song, "Viper," lived up to Rynhart's billing as being "slightly bonkers" -bonkers but brilliant. A standing ovation quickly followed for this unique artist and her fellow musicians.

Daniele Di Bonaventura & Band Union

Making its first ever appearance in Ireland, bandoneonist Daniel Di Bonaventura and Band Union played a rousing set to a packed audience in Loam, a top Galway restaurant that opens its doors specially each year on the final day of GJF.

Joining Di Bonaventura were Marcello Peghin on ten-string guitar, Felice Del Gaudio on double bass and Alfredo Laviano on drums/percussion. The music came mostly from Garofani Rossi (DdB Records, 2018)—a collection of songs of international resistance. The band swung and waltzed its way gracefully through several songs— "Hasta Siempre Comandante," "Bella Ciao," "El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido" and "Fischia Il Vento"—before a pause ushered in warm applause.

Folkloric melodies from Europe, South and Central America met jazz-inflected solos, with Peghin and Di Bonaventura to the fore. Irresistible the lilting Mexican melody of "El Soldato de Levita," which gave way to a swashbuckling percussion solo, and the surprisingly gentle reading of "L'Internazionale." Other highlights included an excerpt from Dvorak's "New World Symphony," and perhaps best of all, an achingly lyrical, almost hymnal version of Zeca Afonso's "Grandola Vila Morena."

For the final song the band brought flamenco-esque passion to "El Quinto Regimento," an ode to the volunteer regiment loyal to the Spanish Republic during Spain's Civil War. It would have placed the perfect seal on the concert, but the crowd, on its feet as one, demanded an encore. Obligingly, the musicians signed off with Peghin's romantic ballad, "Bella di Notte" , a pretty tune, but a low-key way to end an uplifting performance.

Nils Økland

St. Nicholas Collegiate Church was the venue for the final main gig of GJF19—the quintet of Norwegian hardanger fiddler Nils Økland. For many years, Økland has worked towards a musical idiom that embraces folk, baroque, jazz and avant-garde vocabulary, and his most recent albums, Kjølvatn (ECM Records, 2016) and Lysning, (Hubro, 2017) have distilled these influences to a kind of perfection.

For these albums, and for this concert, Økland was joined by saxophonist Rolf-Erik Nystrom, harmonium/organ player Sigbjorn Apeland, double bassist Mats Eilertsen and percussionist Haakon Morck Stene. From the plaintive opening fiddle notes of "Drom" the music responded beautifully to the acoustics of the medieval church, the space amplifying the smallest details and nuances: a bow drawn slowly along the edge of a vibraphone; knuckles glanced across bass strings; the breathy whistling of a saxophone reed.

Whispered stirrings and ethereal waves of sound grew into graceful waltzes and folksy jigs, the transitions steered by sawing fiddle and pounding mallets on symphonic drum, a pizzicato interlude or a gnawing bass pulse. Minimalist, pastoral reverie, enveloping yet as elusive as morning mist, ceded ground to expansive collective passages of some intensity, the one extreme as hypnotic as the other.

Individually, the musicians had their moments to shine: Nystrom sounded a yearning melody on two saxophones simultaneously, the harmonics resonating in the church like bagpipes; Apeland moving to the back of the church to draw hymnal gravitas from the pipes; Nystrom again, moving into the centre of the church and sending his saxophone notes soaring upwards into the church's highest space.

Such dramatic episodes were just that, brief adrenaline charges before the quintet rediscovered equilibrium. Økland's music is much greater than the sum of its parts. The encore offered up a Norwegian blues, which passed from ruminative meditation to keening exclamation before landing softly. The musicians took their bows to a huge ovation before walking, side by side, to the exit at the back of the church, like the closing scene of an epic film—an unforgettable image of an unforgettable concert.


The environment and our responsibility to nature was at the heart of GJF19. And this is no one-off. GJF has embarked on a path, a philosophy, that will color the running of all future editions of the festival. It's a learning curve for all. For the festival, its partners, and for the audiences, the awareness and promotion of greener practices will become increasingly the norm.

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