Improvised Music Company@25, Various Artists At Sugar Club

Ian Patterson By

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Comerford's 1936 bass saxophone is a truly unwieldy beast, yet the bruising riffs and guttural howls from this tree-trunk of an instrument were tempered by surprisingly lyrical, subtle voicing. Up-tempo, the duo created fireworks; Jacobson's constant invention—never at the expense of groove—coaxed beautifully wild flights from Comerford. On more balladic material the duo's chemistry simmered menacingly, like a slow-burning Nirvana. Intoxicating stuff.

Unlike some festivals/organisations that might privately admit to feeling restricted by the title 'jazz,' the IMC's strength from day one has been its openness to all creative music. One artists who embodies the rich diversity of the creative music scene in Ireland better than most is Niwel Tsumbu, the Congolese guitarist resident in Ireland for over a decade. Whether heading his exhilarating electric jazz-rock trio—a hybrid Jimi Hendrix-meets-James Blood Ulmer fusion—or plying sunnier, pop-centric avenues in David Flynn's super-group D.F.F., Tsumbu is a most versatile musician.

On acoustic guitar, Tsumbu's unaccompanied opening number cast a hush over the crowd. Tsumbu's rich vocabulary encompassed Congolese rumba, flamenco, jazz and European classical threads, though the exquisite fusion was almost seamless. Vocals in Tsumbu's native ngala language were delivered in rapid streams, punctuated by lyrical repeating motifs. Tsumbu was joined by hand-drum percussionist Éamonn Cagney—who plays with Tsumbu in the trio Treelan, along with Altan accordionist Martin Tourish—on "Footsteps of the Heart," an elegant tapestry of African and Indian colors.

The pulsating "Africa, Eh!," a song about the double standards surrounding migrants based on their skin color—with electric bassist Peter Erdei adding rhythmic ballast—had an urgent, yearning quality. Although a commanding singer and a fine songsmith, it was Tsumbu's melodically flowing six-string improvisations that set the blood racing. Singers Sallay and Emma Garnett from Tsumbu's group RIZA took to the stage for a harmonically pronounced number where the guitarist's lightning arpeggios contrasted with the singers' mantra-like hand-clapping rhythm. Tsumbu and Cagney's fiery percussive exchange crowned a memorable performance.

Another guitarist and composer of note, though one emanating from a more specifically jazz-oriented background than Tsumbu, is Chris Guilfoyle . For this IMC celebration his sextet Umbra was supersized to a nonet. Matthew Jacobson, electric bassist Barry Donahue and keyboardist Greg Felton handled rhythm duties, while saxophonists Sam Comerford, Chris Engel and Ingo Hipp, trumpeter Gerhard Ornig and trombonist Kieran McLeod brewed steamy unison and interweaving lines.

Guilfoyle served early notice of his beautifully fluid, cleanly articulated lines on the lively opener, "Panic Merchant," a tune especially composed for this version of the band. With such an array of talent on stage plenty of juicy solos were inevitable—Ornig and Felton on the bluesy "It's Clearing Up Now," McLeod and Guilfoyle on "And Your Address," Hipp and Engel on "Smashy Smashy"—but it was Guilfoyle's episodic writing for the ensemble, which translated into rhythmically vibrant patterns, harmonically rich contours and arresting narrative flow, that most impressed. Arguably the jewel in the crown, however, was Guilfoyle' spare arrangement of Bonnie Stewart's lovely "Sandunes."

Umbra released its first EP earlier in the year and it is to be hoped that further studio time might render a more substantial record of what is arguably one of the most exciting jazz ensembles in Europe.

What better way to wrap up a party than with the ultimate party band? Mixtapes from the Underground has been shaking up audiences with its jazz 'n' funk-inflected hip-hop grooves since its inception ten years ago. Vocalists Jamel Franklin, Raven and OpheliaMC formed a powerful front line, with guitarist Shane Latimer, keyboardist Darragh O'Kelly, DJ Harry Phipps and drummer Dennis Cassidy cooking up a groove-based storm that rendered conversation next to impossible and seduced a portion of the crowd up to dance. With Mixtapes from the Underground dancing shoes, party vibes and earplugs are requisite. There is no other way.

It will be fascinating to see what the next twenty five years bring for IMC and improvised music in Ireland and beyond. It's safe to say, however, that IMC will likely be at the heart of much that is innovative, ground-breaking, genre-defying, and above all, inclusive. The burgeoning jazz/improvised music scene needs outfits like IMC to oil the wheels of creativity and to nurture new talent. For twenty five years IMC has done just that, contributing significantly to the creative economy in Ireland and vastly enriching the national cultural panorama in the process. Such a legacy is no small feat.

Phot Credit: Courtesy of Dublin Jazz Photography
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