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Improvised Music Company@25, Various Artists At Sugar Club

Ian Patterson By

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The sheer narcissism of our society is reaching levels never before seen…what jazz does is a kind of antidote to that in terms of its ethos; you’re working for the group and you’re supposed to express yourself. I think that’s a fantastic thing to be involved with.” —Ronan Guilfoyle - Director, Newpark Music Centre/IMC co-founder
Improvised Music Company@25
Sugar Club
Dublin, Ireland
November 26, 2016

It was an appropriately festive atmosphere in the Sugar Club to mark Improvised Music Company's twenty fifth birthday celebrations. Older musicians, perhaps just starting out a quarter of a century ago, rubbed shoulders with the current generation of aspiring artists. Friends and supporters of IMC turned out in goodly numbers, though not enough to demolish all the iced buns, proudly bearing the logo IMC@25. The IMC's original co-founders were present as was the current team; all must have looked on with a certain amount of pride as they reflected on the journey thus far, with five bands/artists—of markedly different stripes—in turn, signposting the way towards the next twenty five years.

IMC has come a long way since 1991 and its cottage industry roots, and today stands as Ireland's leading promotor of jazz and improvised music. Most young jazz groups anywhere in Europe will likely have heard of 12 Points, the IMC's pioneering festival—founded by former IMC chief from 1994-2014, Gerry Godley—that presents a dozen, mostly unheard of jazz/jazz-related acts, to an unsuspecting, though increasingly open-minded public.

So much has changed in the past twenty five years —a quarter of the history of jazz to date. So many of the jazz greats have passed, but on the up side, many new young stars have emerged, not so much bearing the old standard—or standards—as forging distinctive new paths.

The contrast between the distinctly American-flavored sounds from IMC's record label days—spun by DJ Billy O' Hanluain at the start of the evening—and the less overtly American sounds that unfolded on the stage across the evening spoke volumes about the seismic shift in attitudes towards jazz amongst European musicians in the last twenty five years.

The evening kicked off with some words of welcome from IMC Artistic Director, Kenneth Killeen, in which he acknowledged those who have supported IMC throughout the years. This was followed by the projection of an excellent short documentary film on IMC by Cormac Larkin's hatch21productions. Testimony from IMC founding members and musicians pieced together the IMC story and its hefty impact on the Irish jazz scene. IMC has promoted thousands of gigs over the years; names that flashed on the screen such as Elvin Jones, Tinariwen, Esbjorn Svensson Trio, Altan, The Necks, Bang On A Can, Louis Sclavis, Nguyen Le and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band gave a flavour of the diversity and quality of international music that IMC has brought to Ireland.

The main driving engine of IMC, however, has been geared towards the promotion of local talent and to that end, the evening, as with so many IMC-curated events over the years, was all about presenting the best of Ireland's musical talent. The half dozen acts that took to the stage during the course of the evening represented a cross-section of the vibrant Irish music scene, centred inevitably in Dublin. What was evident, during six or seven hours of pulsating musical entertainment in the Sugar Club, was that the roots of the music run deep.

There may have been nothing absolutely new in Matthew Halpin's bold solo saxophone improvisation against a backdrop of seemingly random black-and-white film clips, nor anything radical in The CEO Experiment's pulsating post-bop electro-acoustic jazz; the multiple horns of the electrifying SuperUmbra—a family-sized version of Chris Guilfoyle 's Umbra—were a staple of jazz in its earliest incarnations; the iconoclastic sonic waves of Insufficient Funs, Matthew Jacobson and Sam Comerford's drums-cum-bass saxophone duo harked back to John Coltrane and Rashied Ali's collaborations; the visceral jazz-infused hip-hop of the mighty Mixedtapes from the Underground, likewise, was hardly genre-defying.

Good music, however, is not as much about novelty as it is intent and execution. Halpin is arguably one of the finest saxophonists to have emerged from Ireland in recent years and the film images of colored balls bouncing down a street, a dancing woman, yesteryear's silent screen legends such as Harold Lloyd or Laurel and Hardy and Fred Astaire, or more abstract and subliminal shapes, provided the imaginative fuel for his quietly mesmerising improvisation.

One significant change impacting the Irish jazz/improvised music scene this past quarter of a century has been the shift in the country's demographics. The CEO Experiment, for example, consisting of Peruvian drummer Cote Calmet, Venezuelan keyboardist Leopoldo Osio and Hungarian electric bassist Peter Erdei represents an Ireland where foreign residents contribute not just economically but also culturally as never before.

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