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Richie Buckley With The Scott Flanigan Trio @ The Sunflower, Belfast

Ian Patterson By

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Richie Buckley With The Scott Flanigan Trio
The Sunflower
Belfast, N. Ireland
February 8, 2017

"We have a bit of a surprise for you for you," The M.C. and promoter David Gould told the audience who had packed the upstairs bar of The Sunflower, in anticipation of Irish saxophone legend Richie Buckley's gig. It sounded promising. In a glittering career, Buckley has played/recorded with Freddie Hubbard, Louis Stewart, Van Morrison, Jon Hendricks, Mary Coughlan, Bob Dylan, Paul Brady, Elvis Costello, Sharron Shannon and The Chieftans, to name but a few of his collaborations with a host of A-listers from the pop, folk and jazz worlds. However, anyone hoping that the surprise might be in the shape of, say, Van The Man popping up for a home-town cameo were soon to be disappointed. "The surprise will be..." Gould continued, ..."if Richie actually finds the venue."

Buckley, evidently, was running a little late, so it was his backing band for the evening, the Scott Flanigan Trio that got the ball rolling. Flanigan's unaccompanied piano intro to Jerome Kern's "All The Things You Are" blurred the lines between classical and jazz, though once drummer Steve Davis and bassist Jack Kelly swelled the chorus, the pianist's dashing narrative was firmly rooted in a tradition running from Art Tatum and Bill Evans to Brad Mehldau.

Buckley duly arrived in time for the second number, a lovely bass-buoyed strolling blues, wasting little time in introducing his warm, robust tenor voice in a soulful, blues-drenched improvisation that conjured the spirit of Julian "Cannonball" Adderley. Kelly followed with a confident solo embracing melody and swing. A relative newcomer, Kelly is fast making a name for himself on the Northern Irish jazz scene, and at just eighteen years of age the future looks bright indeed for this notable talent.

Bebop provided the lingua franca for the evening, as the quartet ripped through Kern/Oscar Hammerstein's "The Song Is You" at breakneck tempo. Buckley and Flanigan in turn dealt out feverish solos, with Kelly and Davis working up a sweat. Davis—recently seen performing at the Internationales Jazz Festival Münster 2017 with Alexander Hawkins, Elaine Mitchener and Neil Charles—is perhaps best known as one third of Bourne, Davis, Kane, though is a composer of wickedly sinuous music in his own right, with one album under his belt and a second due in March.

Though the more experimental, open-ended extreme of jazz/improvised music is perhaps Davis' natural habitat, this gig was evidence of a riveting exponent of straight-ahead/bebop idioms, as he played around the beat and drove his colleagues to higher planes of self-expression.

Davis switched to brushes on "When I Fall in Love," the highlight of which was Buckley's tender, Ben Webster-ish solo, full of lyrical invention, and Flanigan's deftly weighted response. Flanigan's debut as leader, Point of Departure (Self-Produced, 2015) was an elegant, assured calling card that showcased both his technical command and sensitivity on ballads, but this Victor Young classic apart, the set was primarily about bebop charge, with even one of Antonio Carlos Jobim's most sensitive ballads, "Desafinado" taken at a good lick—with Flanigan and Buckley's passing nods to Billy Strayhorn's "Take the A-Train" indicative of the general tempo. Tadd Dameron's "Good Bait" again evoked bebop's golden age, with Flanigan this time stretching out in bluesy mode.

The quartet was joined by talented Belfast vocalist Fiona Scott Trotter for three numbers leading up to the intermission. Trotter's sassy delivery, rhythmic nuance and explosive scatting powered a swinging version of "I Didn't Know What Time It Was." The tempo slowed on Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady"—originally composed as an instrumental—with Trotter and Buckley harmonizing to lovely effect, and picked up again on "How High The Moon"—Buckley delivering another breathless, commanding solo.

The second set largely mirrored the first, starting with a lively interpretation of the standard "I Remember You"—the Victor Schertzinger/Johnny Mercer tune from the 1942 film The Fleet's In. Flanigan's woozy, harmonically arresting classical excursion morphed into animated bop terrain—fired by Davis—before Kelly carved out an unaccompanied solo, embellishing a fast-walking core. Davis' feisty drum feature, punctuated by bursts of piano and saxophone, earned loud applause and brought the quartet back to the head.

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