Sligo Jazz Project
July 16-21, 2013
For such a small country, perched on the Western extreme of Europe, Ireland has created a disproportionate amount of history, and had more than its fair share thrust upon it. Everywhere, history informs the landscape and the collective memory. Sligo, home to the Sligo Jazz Project is no exception. Megalithic stonestombs of the ancientsdot the land, and the tombs of Spanish Armada ships and their ghosts lie at the bottom of the sea.
Walking from venue to venue around this old town, from workshop to jam session and gig, the voice of poet William Butler Yeats echoes in the narrow streets; bookshop windows proudly display anthologies of his collected poems, while streets, accommodation blocks, pubs, museums and societies are named in his honor. There's also a lively trade in tea-towels, coffee mugs, and glass and stone inscribed with his verse.
Beside St Edwards primary schoolwhere 85 students from around 20 countries gathered to attend a week of workshops given by some of the world's premier jazz musicians/educatorsstands Sligo's Famine Graveyard, an understated monument to the estimated 1 million Irish who perished in the Great Famine of 18451852. Hundreds of thousands more abandoned Ireland in the following decades, many heading to North America and the strong historical ties linking the two countries were evidenced at the SJP by the picture of President Barack Obama above the whiteboard in one of the classes.
Claiming approximately 4% Irish bloodand there are living relatives in Moneygall to prove it, even if there's no marked
physical resemblanceObama visited Ireland in 2011 and the photo bears beneath it the legend Obama spoke in Gaelic: Is Feidir Linn
which translates as "Yes, we can." It's an appropriate call to arms for primary school children and no less inspiring for the students in Sligo's jazz summer school, where students of varying ages and abilities came to learn, to improve their existing skills and knowledge and, perhaps most importantly, to come away with increased confidence and renewed motivation.
These were, and have always been, the main aims of the SJP since its inception in 2005, but there's more to it than the school. Daily jam sessions in the restaurant/bar space of Source Sligo provided a small-combo laboratory for students to work through new skills and knowledge in a public setting. In the evenings, a jazz festival program in the Hawk's Well Theatre hosted an outstanding array of international musicians, nearly all whom were tutors in the SJP.
The faculty of SJP 2013 boasted the participation of pianists Kenny Werner
and Phil Ware, drummers John Riley
and Steve Davis
, trombonist Marshall Gilkes
, saxophonists Jean Toussaint
, and Linley Hamilton
, double bassist John Goldsby
, electric bassist Janek Gwizdala
, guitarist Mike Nielsen and singer Ian Shaw
. No wonder then, that the students who arrived at St. Edwards school on Tuesday morning were keen to learn who would be tutoring them in small ensembles for the duration of the week.
As the students mingled and acquaintances were made, the swell of voices created a happy cacophony like an orchestra tuning up. A fair few students were returning to SJP for the second or third time, which was also the case for several of the tutors. Mayo-based drummer Martin was back at the SJP for the third consecutive year, drawn each time by the opportunity of studying with John Riley.
Beginning with bandleader Woody Herman
in the mid 1970s, Riley has kept time for iconic jazz figures including trumpeters Miles Davis
and Dizzy Gillespie
, vibraphonist Milt Jackson
, saxophonists Stan Getz
and Joe Lovano
and guitarists John Scofield
and Mike Stern
the latter who was opening the evening festival program: "I think that's why people come back every year," said Martin, "because of the quality of the tutors and because there's no pressure at all." In fact, a spirit of bonhomie and mutual support was a constant feature of the SJP.
After a brief welcome from SJP founder and director, Eddie Lee
, which included an introduction to the faculty staff, the students made their way to the first ensemble classes. Soon after, the school was buzzing with music, talk and laughter. The ensembles typically ranged from quintet to septet in size and the participants from 12 years of age to 70.
Age at either end of the scale is no barrier to joining the SJP as the ensembles are grouped according to levels of ability. In fact, the three youngest students, Thomas Maxwell (12), Charlotte Kinsella (13) and Emmett Harrison (13) provided some of the most inspiring stories of the week.
Day 1: John Riley & Janek Gwizdala Master Class
The first master class brought together two bassists from essentially different backgrounds; John Goldsby and Janek Gwizdala presented "Integrated Ways of Practicing." Together they demonstrated that no matter whether you plug your bass in or hold it upright, the fundamental building blocks to learning and the discipline required to master your instrument are the same.
"Eighty percent of my technique I learned through watching gigs every night of the week," said Gwizdala. "It's a super important element of all of this." Goldsby nodded in agreement. When he started out in earnest in Louisville at the end of the 1970s there was no You Tube nor were there the same opportunities to go to jazz school that exist today. Goldsby learned the ropes by playing with the likes of clarinetist Buddy DeFranco
, guitarist Barney Kessel
, pianist Jay McShann
and singer Johnny Hartman
old-style schooling. Goldsby concurred with Gwizdala: "It's so important to be inspired by the music you're working on," he said "and by the people themselves."
Following a delightful duo recital of "Alone Together" a student asked Gwizdala how much of what he had just played was memorized phrasing or licks: "One of the things I learned at Berklee was not to think when playing," answered Gwizdala. "Can you remember the last time you used the words 'and,' 'if' or 'but'? Of course, I've learned every single note and combination of notes, but I wasn't thinking while I was playing." Having demonstrated playing over changes, Goldsby subsequently observed: "Playing changes is like going for a jog. There are a dozen different ways to get back to your house."
Both musicians stressed the importance of playing with other musicians as a learning strategy, and what was evident in some of the students, certainly at the start of the week was a degree of self absorption in their playing to such an extent that many would forego eye contact with their fellow musicians. Poor communication, with all the consequent pitfalls it brings, was particularly noticeable in some when it came time to hand over a solo.
Goldsby explained that for him a good gig is not about playing like a demon but about listening closely and hearing all the other players: "I'm a musician who happens to play the bass," he said. The two bassists agreed that when it comes to practice it's important to do so within restricted parameters and to bring focus to the practice.
On playing fast, Goldsby recommended keeping a straight wrist at all times and switching between one and two fingers on the upright bass to avoid the hand becoming exhausted. One student asked what to do if the drummer or keyboard player leaves you alone when it's your turn to solo, and judging by Gwizalda's animated response it was clear that such behavior is akin to walking away from someone when they're talking to you. You don't do it.
What was immediately noticeable about Gwizalda's playing was that it was constantly accompanied by wordless singing. He advised students to record themselves singing and to listen to it for ear training. For Gwizalda, singing with his bass lines is one and the same thing: "The music comes from here," he said, tapping his head, "not from here" he said wiggling his fingers. "If I play a two-hour set I come off the stage with absolutely no voice."
The bottom line, Goldsby and Gwizdala agreed, is practice: "It's hours and hours of practice," said Gwizalda. "What am I saying? It's years
of practice," he quickly auto corrected. "I'm 17 years making this music as a professional and I'm still learning. I'm continually updating my mental software."
For the two hours of the workshop not a single note came from the dozen or so bass guitar students present. There are clearly times, and all present were acutely aware of this, that one can learn most by listening. Goldsby also told students not to beat themselves up if they think they don't sound so great, but also not to bask in self-approval: "You observe what you're doing," he said, "but you don't judge it." After the workshop one of the bass students commented on how useful the session had been: "It gives you confidence to have your ideas confirmed," he told me.
Jean Toussaint's Student Ensemble
Confidence was, understandably, not in great supply in the first, post-lunch ensemble classes, where tutors guided the students through a selection of songsstandards in the main. The students stayed with the same tutor for the duration of the week, practicing several compositions. The afternoon jam sessions in the center of Sligo gave gig experience, leading up to the students' gala performances on the final day of the week.
For nearly all these students it was the first time they'd played together. Nine students received the special attention of saxophonist Jean Toussaint. A former member of drummer Art Blakey
's Jazz Messengers between 1982 and 1986, Toussaint has an extensive discography as a leader in his own right and has toured with bebop/hard bop jazz legends such as drummer Max Roach
and pianist Horace Silver
. Toussaint, however, has many strings to his bow, and also performs with the culturally and stylistically diverse ensemble Shiva Nova. Led by keyboardist/composer Priti Paintal, this rather unique ensemble was described by The Times as " a victory for musicianship and vision."
For the first few days this student ensemble was without a drummer, which meant that internalizing the time assumed even greater importance: "When you make a statement you want it to have conviction," said Toussaint, "and the rhythm is conviction." Several standards got a workout, but it was trumpeter Miles Davis
' "So What" from Kind of Blue
(Columbia, 1959) that caused most problems.
Though seemingly simple when broken down into its constituent parts, the students repeatedly made mistakes at the outset, confused between what they thought
were the correct notes and the actual notes: "The mind plays tricks," said Toussaint smiling knowingly. "That's why it's so important to listen closely." As a remedy, Toussaint led the ensemble through a vocal call and response, one that recalled bandleader Cab Calloway
's band. Even with some obviously talented musicians in the ensemble it was going to take time for everybody to gel; the challenges for both students and tutors were abundantly clear from day one.
At six o'clock in the afternoon the students assembled in Source Sligo, a two-floor restaurant/cocktail bar downtown where most of the jam sessions were held. The students performed in their ensembles but the floor was open to any musician who wished to work on their chops. With tutors sitting back and chilling, the atmosphere was nicely relaxed and conducive to non-pressurized playing, even if for a few musicians this was the first time they'd performed in public.
Mike Stern & Victor Wooten Band: Hawk's Well Theatre
The festival side of SJP began with guitarist Mike Stern
and bassist Victor Wooten
's band in the Hawk's Well Theater on Tuesday evening. The town's principal arts venue has become an important partner in the adventure that is the SJP. Marie O'Byrne, the Hawk's Well Theater Director deserves huge credit for leading the way in investing in the development of the arts in Sligo, and, through collaboration with projects like the SJP, in projecting Sligo to the wider world.
Mike Stern and Victor Wooten are best known for their tenure in bands; Stern in the early 1980s Miles Davis band, and Wooten in Bela Fleck
and the Flecktones. Nevertheless, both artists have fairly extensive discographies as leaders and likewise enjoy reputations as leading exponents on their respective instruments. With virtuosity a given, the adrenaline-charged opener "Out of the Blue" from Stern's All Over The Place
(Heads Up Records, 2012), set the tone for much of the set. Derico Watson
's pulverizing drumming recalled Billy Cobham
with whom Stern played at the end of the 1970sand saxophonist Bob Franceschini
was an equally powerful presence. Stern and Wooten, however were very much the center of the show.
Wooten, widely hailed as the
top electric bassist in the world contributed the funky "My Life," whose opening line "gonna buy me a pickle" evoked a Frank Zappa
-esque humor. Bass and drum fireworks ensued, with Wooten spinning his guitar around his frame like a hula hoop. Stern's blues-edged jazz fusion stoked the set but it was on a couple of slower ballad numbers that his undeniably deft touch and lyricism shone through. Wooten's power-house "Left, Right and Center" featured three drummers simultaneously on the original recording, Palmystery
(Heads Up records, 2008) and Watson did his level best to sound like a six-limbed drummer, thrashing the kit to within an inch of its life.
In an act somewhat in keeping with the rock show nature of the performance, Watson threw first one stick then the other to Wooten, who returned them in a seamless juggling movement, without Watson ever losing the beat. A huge roar and a standing ovation rewarded the musicians, and the audience spilled out into the foyer still high on the adrenaline rush of an exhilarating and often breathless show.
Day 2: Ian Shaw Workshop: Singing is for all Playerseven Drummers
One of the challenges for students and tutors alike at the SJP was to find some down time. With 10am starts and school lasting to 4pm or beyond, jam sessions from 6.00-7.30, festival gigs from 8.00-10.30/11.00 and late-night jam sessions going on into the wee hours, there was little respite. So, the Zen ambiance of singer Ian Shaw's al fresco
workshop on Wednesday morning provided a soothing tonic.
Standing in a semi-circle, the students listened as Shaw invited the instrumentalists to sing, echoing Gwizdala's comments the previous day: "This week, sing everything you play," Shaw encouraged. "It's part of you. It's about communication, isn't it?"
Beginning with a rhythmic Brazilian melody, Shaw directed the assembly like a choir, layering interlocking harmonies in warm celebration of the human voice. It was just a warm-up, however, for an utterly inspiring multi-part rendition of singer Mary Fagan's "Where is the Snow Queen?" Layer upon layer of pretty harmonies wrapped themselves around each other, rising and falling in intensity as the students walked slowly in snaking patterns, closing the circle and becoming one beautiful voice of many parts, and one powerful resonance.
John Goldsby Workshop: Outliers, Jugglers, Musicians: Developing Your Practice Schedule
Back in the classroom, John Goldby's curiously titled presentation once more urged student to think seriously about their relationship with their instruments. And that man Obama got in on the act again, in a slide show that presented outliers, or in other words, people who are at a point way outside the norm. Other faces to pop up on the screen included author J.K. Rowling, Bono, Lady Gaga and trumpeter Louis Armstrong. Goldsby read out a quotation from Armstrong: "If I don't practice for a day I know it. If I don't practice for two days, the critics know it. If I don't practice for three days, the public knows it."
With quiet, missionary zeal Goldsby also attempted to dispel the commonly held notion that certain of jazz's most iconic figures were born with an innate musical genius, thus bypassing the hard hours of grinding practice. Referencing a 1954 radio interview with bassist Paul Chambers
and saxophonist Charlie Parker
(see You Tube video at end of article), Goldsby read an extract where Parker told the presenter in answer to a question about his technique: "I put quite a bit of study into the horn, that's true. In fact, the neighbors threatened to ask my mother to move once when I was living out West. They said I was driving them crazy with the horn. I used to put in at least from 11-15 hours a day...study is absolutely necessary...."
Even if that was an exaggeration, Goldsby commented, and Parker actually only studied three or four hours a day, it at least suggests that Parker was absolutely serious about studying his instrument. A quotation of a similar nature from pianist Bill Evans
followed. A slide of a happily disheveled Albert Einstein popped up next, the legend declaring: "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer."
Goldsby emphasized that passion for one's instrument and perseverance go hand in hand. Drawing from and citing Daniel Coyle's best-selling book "The Talent Code: Greatness isn't Born, It's Grown," (2009) Goldsby reiterated Coyle's idea about what the author calls "deep practice," or in other words practicing on the edge of one's ability. Goldsby recommended 30 minutes a day: "It doesn't sound like much, but I guarantee you'll be twice the player you are in a year," he stated. "It's less time than you spend on Facebook," he added sneakily to clinch the deal.
And, for the third time in a day and a half, the advice to sing while playing your instrument came up. And what, asked Goldsby rhetorically, does Lady Gaga have in common with pianist Thelonious Monk
, apart from the cool hat? "Originality," he said. "They practice their originality. The ultimate goal is to sound like who you are." Tricky to achieve, however, when all the students were singing from the same hymn sheetthat's to say jazz standards. It would probably have been fair to warn students that unless they develop their own music over time, or can bring an extremely distinctive voice to the standards repertoire then they'll most likely not venture much further beyond playing their local bars and restaurants.
However, as Goldsby pointed out, musicians have to start by imitating. Without doubt, the easiest international jazz language that stokes the engine of jam sessions around the world is that of the jazz standard. The problem in jazz, however, is when imitation becomes the norm.
Early on in the workshop Goldsby had joked that years before he'd taken up juggling in deference to his mother's advice to have something to fall back on in case the music career didn't take off; he could maybe think about forming a band with Watson and Wooten, where they throw their instruments back and forth at each other. That would be something to see.
Kenny Werner Master Class: How to Build a Chord
The difference between knowing theory and producing it was a central theme of pianist Kenny Werner's post-lunch master class. "If you haven't practiced it enough to absorb it then it's not going to be in your playing," he stated. "The greatest theory book ever written was by Schoenberg," he continued. "Nobody broke as many rules, but you have to know all the theory to break that many rules."
In response to one student who paraphrased Monk's oft quoted statement that "The piano ain't got no wrong notes" Werner replied in a flash: "Yeah? But when people don't know what they're doing it's obvious." In Werner's opinion, jazz has progressed more proactively than any other form of music: "Jazz is a laboratory," he said, opening up an analogy that surely leaves unstated the need for jazz musicians to experiment and to question the status quo at every turn.
In demonstrating building chords, block by little block, Werner observed that most pianists don't integrate both hands, and stressed the need to do so: "The greatest thing I'm sharing with you is not what you practice; it's how
you practice. You're not practicing what you're going to play, you're practicing what will affect
what you play."
In a fascinating lesson, Werner underlined the need to absorb and to add color to the music:" If the fingers are comfortable playing it, the ears are comfortable hearing it. It's one of the most concrete lessons in jazz," he said. The next day student Martin Devek, a classical pianist from Dromore, County Down coming to jazz for the very first time, described the impact Werner's master class had made on him: "It was life changing," he stated simply. "Because I was open it worked. After the class I went back to the hotel, borrowed a keyboard and practiced for two hours."
Phil Ware: Master Class
In the afternoon's other master class pianist Phil Ware echoed Werner's comments on the need to work on voicings for both hands. In one of the week's wittier responses to a student's suggestion that "awkward voicings can be interesting" Ware responded without skipping a beat: "Very, very drunk people can be interesting for a short while." With regard to practice regimes Ware quoted pianist Bill Evans, who when asked what he practiced replied: "The minimum," which, Ware was at pains to emphasize, didn't mean that students could afford to be lazy but rather that they should focus on improving small areas of their playing.
Linley Hamilton's Student Ensemble
In one ensemble class, trumpeter Linley Hamilton
shepherded his mixed-level sextet through the troughs and peaks of their attempts at guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel
's "Minor Blue," Northern Irish pianist Scott Flannigan's "11" and, in the only nod to the tradition, singer/songwriter Cole Porter
's "You'd be so nice to come home to." Hamilton, whose Taylor Made
(Lyte Records, 2011) is one of the most enjoyable jazz recordings to come out of Ireland in recent years, is an indefatigable jazz advocate. In addition to hosting Radio Ulster's After Midnight show dedicated to contemporary and classic jazz, he also works as a producer, educator and trumpet for hire.
His students were in very capable hands and Hamilton coaxed them a little outside their respective comfort zones. Initially, Hamilton spoke about the vocabulary and grammar of music, note selection, scales and chords, motif development, substitutions and inversions. It was a lot to take in, when there were very basic group dynamicslike looking at each otherto be ironed out, but Hamilton persevered with admirable focus and clarity. His analogies were vivid and to the point: "There's a lot of space," he said in reference to "Minor Blue" but you don't want to fill in every crack in the pavement at the same time."
After each false start, each hurdle encounteredand there were manyand after each stuttering phrase or clumsy hand-over, Hamilton took the students back a step, tweaked and gently cajoled. He spoke of the need to break up the length of a musical sentence and urged the musicians to make a statement, to tell a story
when they soloed. The improvements, in small incremental steps, were instantly noticeable.
Janek Gwizdala Trio/The Olllam: Hawk's Well Theatre
On Wednesday evening, the Hawk's Well Theatre served up an intriguing double bill; first up, was the Janek Gwizdala trio, featuring two of Ireland's greatest jazz musicians, drummer Steve Davis and guitarist Mike Nielsen. Of all the evening concerts that made up the festival side of SJP the Gwizdala/Davis/Nielsen concert was, in some ways, the most appropriate in the context of the summer school. Like most of the students, the three musicians had only met up the day before, and had to perform having had next to no time to rehearse.
The set was largely drawn from Gwizdala's recording Theater by the Sea
(Self Produced, 2013) and opened with Gwizdala on bass and bluesy wordless vocal on the intro to the ballad, "Once I Knew." Davis and Nielsen joined in shortly, with the guitarist demonstrating on acoustic all the fire and none of the excesses of an electric guitar. Gwizdala is a highly melodic bassist/composer and even in the trio heat of "Chicago Opener," with Nielsen and Davis soloing, a melodic grove underpinned everything. Though technically something of a bass monster to rival Wooten, a greater simplicity colored Gwizalda's music; his tunes were accessible, memorable and dynamically interesting.
"Bethany" was framed around a simple melodic head before veering towards a rocking mid-section, where Nielsen switched to electric mode. Mediterranean lyricism colored the gently breezy "España," with Gwizdala steering the trio to the head and then bridge in what was surely a lesson in ensemble communication for the students sitting in the front rows of the Hawk's Well Theatre.
For the last two numbers Gwizdala had the stage to himself. "Eronase" developed from a simple, repeated motif, with Gwizdala singing his solo; voice and bass, even during his improvisation, were one and the same. "The Goshman" was an absorbing exercise in loop technology; Gwizdala layered multiple bass tracks over a gently funky groove with his voice, as always, a constant presence.
The concert was not error free and there was an understandable hesitancy on occasion given the thrown-together nature of the trio. Nevertheless, Gwizdala, Davis and Nielsen together epitomized the risk-taking spirit of jazz, and underlined at the same time the necessity for visual cues and attuned earsas in any meaningful conversation.
In total contrast, the second concert of the evening by Irish/American sextet The Olllam blended Irish folk melodies with an art-rock aesthetic. John McSherry's swirling low whistle intro to "The Belll" over Sean O'Mara's delightful acoustic guitar motif and drummer Michael Shimmin's simple backbeat suggested legendary band Moving Hearts as a reference, particularly when McSherry and Tyler Duncan's uilleann pipes arrived in unison. However, whilst the spirit of Irish folk inhabited The Olllam's all-original tunes, the avoidance of jigs, reels and laments in itself lent a contemporary air to the performance.
The Olllam is very much the sum of its parts, with keyboardist Martin Atkinson's subtle touches at times steering the music towards the realm of pop. Bassist Joe Dart's electric bass brought a deep funk groove to "Three signs of a Bad Man" and he was an infectious presence throughout. Duncan and McSherry for the most part played water-tight unison lines, alternating between whistles and pipes on the exhilarating "The Devil for my Hurt." The acoustic guitar and brushes-driven "The Folly of Wisdom," with its happy groove and pretty melodies could be the perfect summer soundtrack.
A hypnotic bass drum pulse and keyboard riff announced "The Tryst after Death," which despite the title was another upbeat, infectious affair that sailed close to the shores of Radiohead-inspired prog rock. A cheery pop air also colored the rhythmically strong "Bridge of Glllass." The balladic "Prayer for Tears" slowed things down with a largely unadorned whistle melody carrying the tune. The entry of pipes and a heavier drum beat lifted the piece briefly into heady sonic territory before subsiding in a peaceful coda.
A huge ovation greeted the end of the main set, ushering in a well deserved encoreanother pleasingly melodic whistle tune with a bit of dancing pipe sting in the tail. Though the Olllam released its eponymously title debut in 2012, winning the Indie Acoustic Music Project Award for Best Instrumental Album, this was the band's first ever performance together. Watch out for the Olllamit may yet take the world by storm.
The late night jam session in The Harp Tavern saw students, tutors and musicians gather for a rowdy old evening's entertainment. The proceedings were watched by local Roddy Gillen of the Jazz Ladds, probably Ireland's oldest jazz band, still playing regular Sunday gigs 47 years on, though some locals say they've been going more than fifty years.
Day 3: John Riley Workshop: The Evolution of a Groove
Day 3 of the SJP began with a workshop by drummer John Riley. This practical demonstration of rhythmic momentum through instability, featured recorded clips of music from Cameroonian Aka pygmies, Algerian rai, Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal
, Puerto Rican percussionist Anthony Carrillo
, and Israeli bassist Avishai Cohen
Riley demonstrated the rhythmic commonalities between the different musicin particular the clave rhythmand highlighted the subdivisions within the music, or in other words the different ways we can experience the rhythms. He encouraged musicians to personalize the rhythm. An educative talk that used analogies ranging from cat chasing mouse and dolphins leaping from the sea to McDonalds supersized fries (the big clave sound), ended up with a short Q&A session.
Surprisingly, the question 'what is the difference between polyrhythm and counter rhythm' left Riley stumped: "I'll have to look into that," he said. Throughout the week, the tutors expressed how much they
had learned through their encounters with the studentsa reminder that no matter how long you've been playing there's always something new to learn.
Ian Shaw: Master Class
Ian Shaw's master class provided a great opportunity to see one of the UK's greatest contemporary singers at work up close. Shaw emphasized the importance of the meaning of words and reflected upon how singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell
's poetry had deeply affected him. Shaw recorded Drawn to all Things: The songs of Joni Mitchell
(Linn, 2006) and he encouraged the students to check out videos of the Canadian singer. For use of instrumentation he recommended vocalists listen to singer/songwriter Melody Gardot
Inviting the students to sing songs of their choice, he offered insightful criticisms: "Sing it like it's not your songdon't rattle through it because you know it. Tease us a bit more with your story," he advised. In another morsel of food for thought Shaw said: "Just because you can hit the note doesn't mean it's the right one." He gave advice on the control of breathing to support the voice and brought a revelatory and highly amusing class to an end with the observation: "We are instruments with fingering and soundboards."
Steve Davis' Student Ensemble
In the afternoon ensemble class slot, drummer Steve Davis
spoke of allowing space for dialog in the music, comparing a pianist who is too busy to a person droning on. "We play
music, we don't work
music," he said. "We have fun with each other. We surprise each other." Davis knows all about fun and surprise in music through the improvising trio Bourne/Kane/Davis
an essential trio for any student serious about in-the-moment creativity.
The Barinthus Suite/Kenny Werner Trio: Hawk's Well Theatre
The evening double bill at the Hawk's Well Theatre provided a highlight of the week. First up was the world premiere of the Barinthus Suite, by SJP director and bassist Eddie Lee and Belfast drummer David Lyttle
. Specially commissioned by the Hawk's Well Theatre for the festival, the Barinthus Suite is named after the Celtic god of the sea and inspired by the megalithic tombs that populate Sligo's landscape. Featuring an all-star cast of musicians including pianist Kenny Werner, the Olllam's Tyler Duncan on pipe and low whistle, saxophonist Jean Toussaint, bodhran player John Joe Kelly, banjo player Ted Kelly and accordionist Jos Kelly, the performance was accompanied by a backdrop of stunning slide photographs of the Sligo countryside.
The one-hour suite opened with a haunting spoken recital by Lee, accompanied by Werner. Lee's evocation of "a white Neptunian mountain" of oyster shells, sea spray and hallowed sites was an almost Yeats-esque ode to place and memory. Part II was the calm before the stormlulling Irish melodies evoking a calm sea. Part III shifted from Afro-Caribbean grooves to exhilarating Afro-Celtic fusion, with Lee's bass ostinato the thread uniting the segments; Werner and Nielsen's extended solos dissected the dense ensemble sound.
The ruminative Part IV was a feature for saxophone and piano and the most nostalgic segment of the 45-minute suite. Part V stemmed from a bodhran and drum duet. Eerie siren calls rose from voice and violin like the howling wind, as Lee's returning bass ostinato signaled the full voice of the ensemble in a climactic 10-minute charge. A standing ovation ensued, the musician took their bows and another piece of history had been made at SJP. Lee and Lyttle's brilliant suite deserves to be recorded for posterity and should be toured as widely as possible into the bargain.
Pianist Kenny Werner, bassist John Goldsby and drummer John Riley closed the evening with an exquisite demonstration of the art of the trio. Standards like "With a Song in my Heart" and "In Your Own Sweet Way" were treated with utter sincerity. Werner originals such as "Yago" and the title track from Balloons
(Half Note Records, 2011) simmered evocatively in a set that was never less than absorbing.
For reasons unknown Werner's name has never quite made the same banner headlines as pianists Hank Jones
, Oscar Peterson
or Chick Corea
, but he surely belongs in that company. Wernera former teacher of pianist Brad Mehldau
paid tribute to trumpeter Kenny Wheeler
in a vibrant song entitled "Free Wheelin.'" Peppering his playing with quotations, Werner's composition was perhaps inspired by the melodic flair for which Wheeler is renowned.
A heartfelt rendition of pianist Dave Brubeck
's "In Your Own Sweet Way" gave SJP students a fine window onto two-handed voicings and right-left hand integration on an extended solo introduction. Riley's brushes and Goldsby soft textures lent sympathetic support. The encore was Miles Davis' tune "Nardis," a composition most commonly associated with pianist Bill Evans
another piano legend with whom Werner bears favorable comparison. Flowing lyricism gave way to a dancing Latin rhythm that dissipated into a feathery conclusion.
Moxie/The Olllam/Jam session: Source Sligo
There were late night gigs upstairs in Source Sligo, with local boys Moxieanother utterly infectious young Irish bandputting a fresh twist on traditional Irish music. They were followed by the Olllam. With the jazz students in the downstairs restaurant playing standards there were times when the music from both floors clashed a little, but on the whole the night had a celebratory feel. A few more nights like these and the tourist tea-towels and paper weights will soon bear the name of the Sligo Jazz Project.
Coming up in SJP Days 4-6: Tony Miceli Quartet; Kenny Werner public talk on "Effortless Mastery"; The Dublin City Jazz Orchestra; David Lyttle's Interlude; SJP All-Stars; Nigel Mooney Band; The SJP Big Bash! Participants Ensemble Concert; Tropicana Musica.
Photo Credit: Aminah Hughes