Sligo Jazz Project 2013: Days 1-3

Ian Patterson By

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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 1970s—and 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 Players—even Drummers

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