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Sligo Jazz Project 2013: Days 1-3

Ian Patterson By

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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 music—in particular the clave rhythm—and 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 students—a 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 song—don'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 storm—lulling 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.

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