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Linley Hamilton Quintet at Black Box

Ian Patterson By

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Linley Hamilton Quintet
Black Box
Belfast, Ireland
March 13, 2015

Since the launch of In Transition (Lyte Records, 2014) at the Brilliant Corners festival last March, the Linley Hamilton Quintet has gigged only sporadically. With members split between Dublin, Port Laoise and Belfast, geography plays its part to a degree. However, there are numerous strings that pull these professional jazz musicians this way and that, from studying and teaching commitments to radio shows and numerous band and function commitments. And, if we're to believe Dr Hamilton, modelling too.

In short, the bread and butter of many a jazz musician in Ireland often limits the opportunities for a stable band to play together. Not that there was any ring rust on Hamilton's multinational quintet, as its first rate performance in the heart of Belfast's Cathedral Quarter amply demonstrated.

These musicians know each other well from various collaborative ventures over the years; intuitive, empathetic dialog was at the heart of the music from the opening salvos of Joe Henderson's hard bop classic "The Kicker, which saw limb-loosening solos from Hamilton, Julien Colarossi and pianist/arranger Johnny Taylor.

The rhythm section of bassist Damian Evans, drummer Dominic Mullan and Taylor kept impeccable time throughout, lending subtle steerage to Hamilton and Colarossi on slow bluesy numbers such as Margot Raymundo's "My Heart's Desire" and Rufus Wainwrights' poignant ballad "Dinner at Eight," and grooving hard on the mid-tempo swinger "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" and Kenny Garrett's infectious, up-tempo burner "Happy People."

In the mixture of jazz standards, contemporary singer-songwriter-inspired fare and striking originals, Hamilton and Taylor have finely honed a common language with melody as its core. It's a language whose roots undoubtedly come from the broad American jazz tradition of Broadway song, swing and fiery collective play but with modern European leanings tempering the quintet sound.

On the much covered classic "Without a Song" Hamilton's exhilarating technique hinted at a debt to Freddie Hubbard. Such flashing exuberance, however, played second fiddle to a softer, more melodic pursuit that reflected the trumpeter's increasing appreciation of Norwegian mood merchant Mathias Eick and players of that ilk. South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim's achingly pretty "Joan-Capetown Flower" provided the perfect vehicle for Hamilton's less-is-more lyricism, with the ever-impressive Colarossi on the same wavelength.

Jazz in Ireland has benefited hugely from the migration of foreign musicians to these shores in the past twenty years and on the stirring "Anthem"—featuring a riveting intervention from Taylor—Hamilton paid tribute to Australian trumpeter Paul Williamson, whose influence has outlasted the brevity of his two-year sojourn here in the noughties. A decade on and Australian Evans, Italian Colarossi, Londoner Taylor—and a host of talented musicians from many points on the globe—are impacting the local jazz panorama as never before.

There was individual brilliance from Evans with a yearning bass solo on "Song for Pav," impressive stick work from the unflashy Mullan on Julian Wasserfuhr's "Fade a Little" and wicked interplay between Colarossi and Hamilton, notably on the emotive set closer "Origin." Yet on the whole it was the quintet's collective voice that triumphed.

The band returned to the stage for a one-stop encore -a blues-colored, swinging take on the Arlen/Harburg/Rose standard "It's Only a Paper Moon," with elegant closing statements from Taylor, Hamilton and Colarossi.

This was the second in a string of four dates for the Linley Hamilton Quintet organized by Moving On Music, which is celebrating twenty years of promoting outstanding music in Northern Ireland. If there's a downside at all, it's simply that four gigs seems like way too short a tour for a quintet with this much to say.

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