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Guinness Cork Jazz Festival 2013

Ian Patterson By

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Saturday evening's double bill at the Everyman Palace Theatre began with Portico Quartet, complete with new addition to the group, singer Cornelia. Its hybrid electronic-acoustic music has inspired many groups in the past half dozen years since its debut, Knee Deep In the North Sea (Babel, 2007) but few have managed to straddle genres quite as successfully. The one-hour set began with "Window Seat" which segued into "Ruins"—a delightful opening serving of ambient soundscapes, pulsing rhythms and electronic-infused minimalism.

Portico Quartet was one of the first groups to fully integrate the hang—the percussion instrument that sounds like a cross between a tabla and a West Indian steel pan—into its sound and percussionist Keir Vine's use of mallets to announce the repeating refrain of "Rubidium" sounded like the peel of church bells. Bassist Milo Fitzpatrick's shimmering arco and saxophonist Jack Wylie's drawn out notes created a dream-like vibe that was temporarily broken by Duncan Bellamy's combined electronic and drum trance. The rhythms gradually dissipated as the chill-out vibe reasserted itself on this striking number.

Singer Cornelia brought her ethereal vocals to a new number and "Steepless." The addition of the Swedish vocalist to the band is a further sign of Portico Quartet's refusal to stick to the tried and tested and its pursuit of new sonic territory. An absorbing show culminated in "City of Glass"; metronomic percussion and grooving bass ostinatos combined with floating saxophone and keyboard melodies in a striking juxtaposition of rhythm and ambient texture.

As absorbing as Portico Quartet's performance was, it had next to nothing to do with jazz. In this respect, the GCJF is seemingly going the way of so many other jazz festivals in diversifying its program musically with indie rock, Neo Soul, funk and whatever else has wide appeal. The inclusion in this year's program of artists such as Chic & Nile Rodgers, Soul II Soul Sound System, Bilal, Efterklang and Primal Scream at the Cork Opera House represented the festival's desire to attract not only a larger audience but a younger one to boot.

There was a full house to witness drummer Billy Cobham & Spectrum 40, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the drummer's best known album, Spectrum (Atlantic, 1973). Joined by keyboardist Gary Husband guitarist Dean Brown and bassist Ric Fierabracci, Cobham ran through almost the entire album, including "To the Women in my Life" and "Le Li"—songs which Cobham stated he had never previously played live.

A couple of tight jazz-fusion numbers allowed everybody to stretch out but were just the anti-pasti whetting the appetite for the fantastically grooving "Stratus"—a classic of 1970's jazz fusion. With Cobham and Fierabracci keeping a steady beat, the stage was set for some tremendously free soloing from Dean and Husband. The set was forty minutes old before Cobham unleashed one of his legendary solos; armed with four sticks he showed greater subtlety than perhaps might have been expected, prior to the inevitable barrage.

The set featured a composition each from jazz-fusion legend Dean—whose association with Cobham stretches back thirty years—and Husband, whose dramatic "Dreams in Blue" from Dirty & Beautiful Volume 1 (Abstract Logix, 2010) featured incendiary collective play. However, the real fireworks came with the super-charged "Quadrant 4' which closed the set. The crowd did just enough to earn an encore, the steaming, slow funk-blues "Snoopy's Search"/"Red Barron," with Cobham content to play time-keeper as Dean and Husband let rip one final time to cap a scintillating show.

Besides the main GCJF program the Fringe Festival offered a rich and varied program over the four days. There were exhibitions by photographers Des McMahon and William Ellis, the latter whose One LP project was making its international debut; multiple workshops took place around the city as did lectures, jazz and blues dance classes, open mic jam sessions and jazz films of classic Montreux Jazz Festival performances.

The Jazz Festival Choir, led by UK jazz singer/pianist Lee Gibson proved to be a popular workshop. Over three mornings around 30 people of all ages—most without any real experience in a choir—assembled in The Jazz Bar of the Everyman Palace Theatre and tackled spirituals, pop and soul numbers. Divided into alto, soprano, tenor and bass sections, Lee skillfully molded the choir into admirable shape given the limitations of three, one-hour sessions. Immediately after the final session the Jazz Festival Choir performed without a safety net in the foyer of the Metropole Hotel to what must technically count as a standing ovation from surprised hotel guests. "It's the most fun you can have with your clothes on at my age," said one woman soprano, seven decades young.


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