Limerick Jazz Festival
September 26-29, 2013
There's a lot to be said for laying strong foundations. By the time the Limerick Jazz Society got it together to put on the city's inaugural jazz festival in 2012 it already had 30 years experience of hosting local and international jazz acts. That's three decades building relations with venues and sponsors, local and national musicians and media, volunteers and supporters, and of course the Limerick public.
Even before the first festival took jazz in Limerick to the next level, however, the city justifiably enjoyed a reputation as the best place for jazz in Ireland outside of Dublin. The LJS was responsible for bringing pianist Brad Mehldau
to Ireland for the first time and artists such as saxophonists Chris Potter
and David Binney
, trumpeter Tomasz Stanko
, guitarist John Abercrombie
and pianist Jason Moran
have all been persuaded to play this small city of 57,000 that nestles by the River Shannon. The Limerick Jazz Festival 2013 consolidated the success of the inaugural festival by bringing jazz to even more venues in town and by attracting international media. Day 1: Louis Stewart & Jim Doherty
Promotion of Irish jazz talent has been central to the LJS's ethos since the beginning and the very best Irish jazz musicians regularly play the spring and autumn concert series that have been part of the cultural fabric of Limerick for the past thirty years. It was therefore entirely fitting that two of Ireland's best jazz musicians, guitarist Louis Stewart
and pianist Jim Doherty got the festival underway on Thursday evening. There was further symmetry in the fact that back in 1988 Stewart had been the LJF's first major invitee, performing with singer Honor Heffernan in what was formerly The Granary Bar, now Trinity Rooms.
Stewart is undoubtedly Ireland's most famous jazz musician. In 1968 he won the special jury prize at the Montreux Jazz Festival and went on to play for three years with clarinetist/bandleader Benny Goodman
. Collaborations with saxophonist Tubby Hayes
, pianist George Shearing
and several years as a member of saxophonist Ronnie Scott
's quintet cemented his reputation. Reviewing Acoustic Guitar Duets
(Livia Records, 1986), which Stewart recorded with guitarist Martin Taylor
, Downbeat magazine wrote: "Louis Stewart must be considered one of the instrument's world class players"something they'd already known in Ireland for a long time.
This gig was a celebration of Stewart and Doherty's debut CD together, a recording, Doherty admitted, that took a while to see the light of day. Fifty three years after first playing together in a Showband, the two musicians finally made it into a studio earlier this year to record Tunes
(Beechpark Records, 2013)a collection of timeless jazz standards. "It Could Happen To You" and "I wished On the Moon" got the set off to a swinging start and this was followed by an elegant bossa nova by Antonio Carlos Jobim
. An intimate version of "Body and Soul" highlighted both players tremendous lyricism.
Doherty took a solo piano spot, a medley of George and Ira Gershwin tunes that revealed a continual flow of ideas and a strong rhythmic pulse. Reunited with Stewart, the duo closed the first set with a boppish take on "Broadway." After a short break the duo launched into "My Heart Stood Still" before welcoming saxophonist Larry McKenna
and vibraphonist Tony Miceli
to play on a couple of tunes. McKenna, like Stewart, is a consummate interpreter of a song and his warm tone and melodic invention brought luster to "East of the Sun." Miceli's delightful solo set the scene for some rapid exchanges between all four musicians.
The quartet also let off some collective steam on saxophonist Charlie Parker
's 1947 bebop classic "Scrapple from the Apple" before Doherty and Stewart resumed their intuitive duo dialog once again on "Darn That Dream." Stewart gave a captivating solo performance of "It Ain't Necessarily So," Doherty linked up with Stewart on "Yesterdays" and McKenna And Miceli returned to close out a classy set with a lively quartet rendition of "What is This Thing Called Love." Day 2: Limerick Jazz Workshop; Larry McKenna Quartet
With just the one evening gig on Friday there was time to wander the streets of Limerick and take in a few of the sights. Limerick dates back to at least the time of the Vikings, who settled here in 812. The Normans built King John's Castle in the 12th centurya sign of the city's strategic position on the River Shannon in those feudal times. The castle has undergone a multi-million Euro refurbishment and now boasts a state of the art visitors' center.
Like most Irish towns these days there are a dew chain stores but in the main the streets and shops retain a local character. Pubs abound. So too, does art. Limerick has a vibrant arts scene, with very active theatre and dance companies. Flyers and posters advertising gigs of all musical styles vie for space in the town's shop windows. Limerick gives graffiti a good name and striking wall murals brighten up building facades in various nooks and crannies of the town. Despite its small city feel Limerick is multi-cultural, with an important African community and the largest Polish population outside Dublin. At the time of LJF 2013 an exhibition of art/photography by Polish artists was on display at the Hunt Museum.
Later that evening two of Philadelphia's finest musicians, saxophonist Larry McKenna and vibraphonist Tony Miceli gave a wonderful performance of jazz standards. Joined by Australian, Dublin-based bassist Damien Evans and drummer/LSJ chair John Daley, the quartet set out its stall with a gently swinging version of "Robin's Nest." At 76, McKenna remains one of the very best exponents of standards interpretation. Neither is it surprising from one who has played with both Frank Sinatra
and Tony Bennett
that he swings too. Miceli, a 60's child, often gravitates towards more contemporary collaborations, though he quickly demonstrated that, like McKenna, he has a real feel for the tunes.