Guinness Cork Jazz Festival 2013

Ian Patterson By

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In the afternoon the jazz funeral march finally got off the ground a day later than advertised, prompting speculation that they'd just been waiting for the main protagonist to pop his clogs. At the Triskel Christchurch there was more life in an outstanding double bill featuring the Ronan Guilfoyle Quintet and Colombian harp sensation Edmar Castaneda.

Bassist Guilfoyle's Irish/French quintet performed his original work "Counterparts"—a new commission by the National Concert Hall— based upon the music quoted in the writings of James Joyce. A recording of Joyce's voice preceded the opening number, based around tightly coiled unison lines from violinist Dominique Pifarel, alto saxophonist Stephane Payen and tenor saxophonist Michael Buckley. Guilfoyle's wiry bass lines and drummer Christophe Lavergne's punchy rhythms ignited some firey individual playing from the front line. "Telemachus" swayed between pizzicato violin motifs, rich horn/string voicings evocative of bassist Charles Mingus's larger ensembles, and exploratory bass and tenor solos—all buoyed by Lavergne's explosive play.

Three pieces followed without a pause; "Girlish Days," inspired by Joyce's only known composition ("Bid Adieu to Girlish Days") shared little of the somber chamber quality of Joyce's original and featured a fine solo from Payen. Swirling horn and violin—minus the rhythm section initially—introduced "Sirens" but Guilfoyle and Lavergne's return ratcheted up the tension several notches. An extended abstract passage ensued, with the musicians mimicking the rhythmic cadences and emotions of a recorded extract from Ulysses; Buckley's flute intervention was particularly effective in imitating the contours of Joyce's vernacular. Grooving bass, cracking drums and honking sax introduced "Two Gallants," providing striking contrast to the abstraction of the previous section. Pifarley's searing solo recalled Jean-Luc Ponty's free-wheeling Frank Zappa days.

Guilfoyle's Joyce odyssey concluded with "Finnegan," whose knotty unison lines, flying improvisations and undulating tempos provided the perfect vehicle for the impressive Lavergne's considerable range of dynamics. It sealed a remarkable quintet performance. Following the performance of Guilfolye's triumphant Indo-jazz suite "Five Cities" at the Down With Jazz festival in Dublin in September, "Counterparts" stakes a further claim for Guilfoyle as amongst the most innovative voices in contemporary jazz.

Harpist Edmar Castaneda is to the harp what Jaco Pastorius was to the bass—an innovative virtuoso redefining what's possible on his chosen instrument. Castaneda's grounding is in the folkloric harp tradition of Colombia and Venezuela but as this concert demonstrated his unique playing style is influenced by jazz, tango, flamenco and the rhythms of New Orleans, Brazil and the Caribean—Castaneda is truly a purveyor of world music.

From the beginning of the firey Latin jazz of "Cuarto de Colores," Castaneda revealed an uncanny ability to multi-task; grooving Afro-Cuban bass lines, rhythmic chords and melodic lines were managed simultaneously in a breathtaking display. The pretty title track of Entre Cuerdas (Artist Share, 2010) owed more to the arpa llanera folk tradition of the plains of Colombian and Venezuela, spiced up by Castaneda's lightening improvisations. "Jesus de Nazareth" moved from a tender, almost ballad-like opening to more expansive, flowing expression, though this was the least dense of Castaneda's compositions.

The harpist paid elegant homage to bandoneon maestro Astor Piazzolla on "Libertango." He was then joined by bodhrán player Eddie Kavanagh in an improvised jam; Castaneda led for the most part with Kavanagh's driving rhythms and accents providing intuitive support. During the concert Castaneda alluded a couple of times to the likelihood of recording in Ireland and the thought of flute and whistles, pipes, violin and Irish harp in union with Castaneda already paints a colorful picture. Certainly the simpatico collaboration with Kavanagh's Irish rhythms offered an exciting preview of the possibilities.

Samba rhythms colored Castaneda's delightful take on "Autumn Leaves." The up-tempo "Colibri" married flamenco and Colombian/Venezuela Joropo rhythms in a dazzling fusion. Castaneda's body language conjured a boxer dancing lightly on his feet as he plucked chords like little jabs or shifted his weight back and forth as his sweeping runs gathered pace. From time to time explosive right hand rasgeuos flew across his strings like flashing right hooks. A brief maraccas interlude was no less captivating, briefly altering the dynamic before the final flamenco flourish on harp.


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