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Limerick Jazz Festival 2013

Ian Patterson By

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Downstairs in the Hunt Museum Café the saxophone quartet Blue Mask entertained the lunch time crowd with harmonically arresting arrangements of tunes by Count Basie, Oliver Nelson and Mel Torme, in addition to a couple of originals. Soprano saxophonist Markus Krabee, alto saxophonist Sharron Burns, tenor saxophonist Helen Haserfuss and baritone saxophonist Patrick Olsen, all played with skill, humor, and a certain pizzazz. With a little more risk, a few more original arrangements—and a little bit of luck—they could be Ireland's answer to Brass Jaw.

Saturday evening's concert saw a welcome return to Limerick after an absence of ten years of singer Christine Tobin. It might have been tempting for Irish-born Tobin to revisit Sailing to Byzantium (Trail Belle, 2012), her soulful musical interpretations of the poetry of W. B. Yeats, but Tobine had other irons in the fire.

The London-based singer's show in the old Belltable theatre was entitled A Thousand Kisses Deep, and was a personal, sensuous tribute to singer Leonard Cohen. Backed beautifully by guitarist Phil Robson and bassist Dave Whitford, Tobin mixed up Cohen classics with a jazz standard or two, but the show began with singer Joni Mitchell's "The Priest"—a rarely covered tune from Mitchell's album Ladies of the Canyon (Reprise, 1970).

Tobin injected warmth and a sense of celebration into Cohen compositions "Dance Me to the End of Love," "1000 Kisses Deep" and "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye." Even on the mostly bleak "Everybody Knows" with the cutting lyric "everybody got this broken feeling that their father or their dog just died," Tobin mined the lyric's poignancy with a poet's instinct and gently played up the humor that lies just beneath the surface of a Cohen song co-written by long-time collaborator Sharon Robinson.

Tobin's feel for the blues colored "Take This Waltz" and "Tower of Song." On the latter, Robson unleashed the staccato riff from Miles Davis/Joe Zawinul's "It's About That Time," ushering in Tobin who seized on the familiar melody. It was an unexpected and dramatic conclusion to Cohen's Dylan-esque slice of self reflection.

Another song that has stood the test of time was Bobby Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe"; Tobin's rendition was faithful to Gentry's delightfully infectious Southern gothic tale, though her vocal impression of a blues harmonica and Robson's country-blues solo gave the performance a personal seal. "Come Rain or Come Shine" burned with bebop intensity while Cohen's "Suzanne" was completely transformed with an almost danceable groove and some firey playing from Robson.

A wonderful trio performance was capped with singer Billie Holiday's "God Bless The Child," with Tobin taking this old pearl and making it shine anew. Tobin's recording of Cohen's songs is due for release some time in 2014.

Day 4: Crisis Point

The finale to Limerick Jazz 2013 came in the shape of big band jazz in the city's most famous live venue, Dolan's Warehouse. Ireland boasts several very good big bands and Crisis Point is one of the best. The members of the 17-piece big band hail from different points on the compass so understandably, given the limited rehearsal time as a unit there were a few rough edges here and there. On the whole, however, the arrangements by keyboardist Bryan Meehan and trombonist Paul Dunlea of material old and new were vibrant and engaging.

Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" and soul/funk singer James Brown's "I Feel Good" got the show off to a flying start. Saxophonist Larry McKenna and vibraphonist Tony Miceli added heft to the big band sound on the Dunlea composition "Corner Tree." The two Philadelphian musicians then played as a quartet with drummer John Daley and bassist Peter Hanagan on Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz's much loved jazz standard "Alone Together." McKenna and Miceli also were in fine form on the duet "Dreamsville," with the saxophonist's exquisite phrasing a real treat to behold.

The first set finished with a big band take on the bebop classic "Cherokee" and a powerful arrangement of the James Bond theme to Skyfall, sung by the impressive Aoife Doolan. Her voice rose above the roar of the big band and earned appreciative applause from the full house.

Guests abounded in the second half. First up was Nigel Mooney, one of Ireland's finest blues guitarists with a voice to match. On "Alright, Okay, You Win" by Mayme Watts and Sid Wyche and Memphis Slim's "Every day I Have the Blues" Mooney and Crisis Point paid swinging tribute to singer Joe Williams and pianist Count Basie's orchestra, who recorded these tunes together on the rocking Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings (Verve, 1956).

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