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Limerick Jazz Festival 2013

Ian Patterson By

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Limerick Jazz Festival
Various Venues
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 century—a 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.


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