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 encore another 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