| Days 3-4
Sligo Jazz Project
July 24-29, 2018
July 24, 2018
The Garavogue River flows slow and lazy through the centre of town to Sligo Harbour. Mountains stand in the distance out in Yeats country, green and rocky, overlooking the fields on the outskirts of town. Looking over the dull metal roofs of Ballast Quay's warehouses to the land beyond Sligo town, the faeries steal away with one's imagination. And the sounds of tin whistle airs dance on the fringes of the mind. Lightyears away from the jazz that swept the streets of Sligo for a week in late July, 2018.
Coming in from all corners of the world armed with saxophones and heathen ideas, master musicians/tutors were lured to this peaceful land for the annual Sligo Jazz Project. To gig and teach throughout the town in venues ranging from the Hawk's Well Theatre to the cosy Hargadon's Pub. Bringing jazz from its birthplace in the noisy social setting of the bar to the theatres it now calls home.
It is across Hughes Bridge, lit by the sun streaming in through its skylights and wide windows, that the Sligo Jazz Project's base of operations rests: the Institute of Technology, Sligo. A centre of learning that opened its doors to the students who studied the fine art of jazz under the 26 musicians/tutors. As trumpet instructor Linley Hamilton would explain, the participants studied not just in the masterclasses and through working with the instructors in their student-ensembles but through the invaluable experience of watching them perform onstage.
Inside the college the sound of the ensembles tuning up snaked down the hallways. Past the foodcourt and the student bookshop. A gentle swing-beat underpinned the tune-up's cacophony and scat singing and saxophone scales coasted atop it. Down a hallway in the Business & Social Sciences building, in the thick of these sounds, "Lord and Lady Sligo," Eddie Lee
and Therese O'Loughlin held court. With the festival's red-shirted volunteers sat at tables around the room, organising and discussing the week ahead.
Neither half of the husband/wife team of Eddie and Therese ever stayed still for more than a minute. Their week was spent in third gear -with Eddie billed as "Artistic Director" while Therese fulfilled no less than four roles: "SJP Admin, Merchandising, Hospitality, Artist Liaison." It is their work alongside their three children and the volunteers, that has brought SJP out of the imagination's haze and into concrete reality annually for 13 years.
Everyone from the tutors through to the students and onwards to the volunteers spoke highly of the Lee/O'Loughlin clan. Through their leadership, the Sligo Jazz Project is kept a loose and passionate affair. With no divides between the Project's participants and their instructors, the free exchange of knowledge, wisdom, gratitude and emotion was encouraged. Making Sligo Jazz Project a unique learning experience.
All doors along Sligo I.T.'s many hallways were open to the inquisitive. And the curious were free to wander, peering in doorways to better soak up all that there was on offer. Italian bass-master Federico Malaman
arranged his ensemble in preparation for the climactic "Sligo Jazz Project Big Bash" on Sunday. Where in their instructor-led ensembles, all the students would perform onstage for their newfound friends and mentors.
Maestro Federico nodded and smiled as an American gent, who described himself as a "musical virgin" when he stood up, sang into a microphone for his first time. And if his preceding confession hadn't betrayed his inexperience it would have been revealed through the way he held the mic: moving it around in circles so that the sound of his Sinatra-esque croon faded in and out.
Post-tune a younger female singer named Cara Lynch explained about holding the microphone steady. And the American gentleman took the advice onboard with grace and an eagerness to learn. It's this coupling of experience and the lack thereof, the teaming up of musical virgins with such recognised masters as Malaman, that makes the SJP experience memorable, priceless and addictive. Many of the participants return year after year. Some have for as many as five years running. Precisely because the atmosphere is so non-judgemental and welcoming.
The philosophy of Sligo Jazz Project is one of open-armed welcome. All ages, instruments, and experience-levels are encouraged to partake. In order to facilitate the personal growth of the participants and the continued growth of jazz.
Without a proper education -be it in chemistry, English, or jazz -progression becomes an impossibility. Unlike the schoolhouses of the world however, there is no indoctrination in the teachings of SJP's tutors. The exploration of outer realmsfree jazz, world music, spirituality -was encouraged throughout the week alongside the quote-un-quote "proper" methods. With each member of the faculty keen to impress upon the students the relationship between the mathematics of the music and its spiritual elements. In breaking down the barriers between the teachers/performers and the students, information moved from one participant to the next in a liberated, but not overwhelming, fashion. And as Malaman went about the room making adjustments to the chord progression and the bass line, the smiles on the members of his ensemble's faces confirmed the success of this approach.
The crowd spilled out of Hargadon's doorway, pulling on cigarettes and chatting amongst themselves. The sun threatened to split the pavement and eyes narrowed against its glare. Over the threshold it was wall-to-wall flesh. The opening jam, Sligo Jazz Project's "Festival Launch," was about to get underway. And the quartet billed as Paul Clarvis
& Friends set up in a space no bigger than five foot by six.
The aforementioned SJP-instigator Eddie Lee leaned into his double bass, tuning up. Clarvis pieced together his tom-less drum kit. Ciaran Wilde
stood to the side armed with a saxophone, a clarinet, and his sheet-music. And Mike Walker
sat on his guitar amplifier, warming up his hands for the show. Sligo Jazz Project 2018's first live gig.
As the quartet blazed into "Bye Bye Blackbird," after an admittedly tepid start, an older gentlemen sang over the band's singer-less performance. Vocalising the enthusiasm of everyone who had squeezed themselves into the bar. Clarvis's drumming was so solid a watch could've been set to his time. And Eddie Lee's bass playing, similarly simple and reliable, meshed with Clarvis's playing like cogs' teeth. His solos kept smooth and frictionless as his accompanying basslines.
Clarvis's and Lee's no-frills rhythm section anchored Wilde and Walker's perfectly complementary team. Wilde's alto/clarinet lines interweaved impeccably with Walker's shimmering chords in an inspired reimagining of Coltrane and Tyner's tenor/piano relationship. Walker's performance that afternoon in Hargadon's favoured spacious higher-string guitar chords rather than bebop speed runs. Leaving open sonic plains for Wilde's reeds to wander freely. While simultaneously providing solid ground for his stratospheric highs. Stabbing notes that left deep impressions on the consciousness.
In any good band -be they rock n' roll, death metal, or jazz -each member stands on the balls of their feet. Ready to react to the sharp about-turns of their bandmates while still providing a sense of a coherent whole. Clarvis & Friends' quartet proved themselves well beyond capable in their first set. And as the drinks were handed down to the band, there wasn't a grim face on the premises.
Eddie moved to the door, chatting to anyone who stopped him on the way. For the second set the bass-mantle was taken up by Conor Murray
who handled his responsibilities admirably. Proving himself to be on-par with Eddie, Murray played with deft understatement. His playing fit in with his band members' as if they were tailored for each other. There was no ego on the stand -no pomposity or parading. Walker, Wilde, Clarvis, Lee, and Murray simply took care of business with a passion for their craft rarely found in any trade.
And just as architecture or fine carpentry stirs up admiration in its pupils and the public, these trades/jazzmen provoked applause and appreciation from Hargadon's gathering. All of whom were more than willing to lend their voices to the band's stirring finale of "Goodnight Irene." So when the final chorus came around there was not a silent tongue present. Each person singing the words. But telling of how they had been moved down to their cores. As the band wound down and began packing up, the smiling crowd moved out into the sunshine. Eddie made his way back to the quartet's tiny performance space where his bandmates were chatting to all who stopped to congratulate them. Warm and open as the azure Summer sky.
The venue sits only around the corner from the religious bookstore that displays images of Pope Francis in its windows. And just up Temple Street, Sligo Cathedral's parish bulletins advertised the upcoming church events. But the devoted walked on past these faith-peddling dens to their own temple: A modest theatre that seats a congregation of 340. And each night for six nights running it was jammed with people. Tight as cigarettes in a pack.
Until Saturday's final concert the Hawk's Well Theatre homed the jazz music once thought sinful by the powers-that-be. But as the musicians proved night after night, jazz is a profoundly spiritual music. Capable of exposing even the deepest-buried soul through the mere delivery of a musical phrase. And the five women who took the centre stage for the theatre's first SJP show of the week proved that fact beyond the scepticism of any doubting Thomas. Liane Carroll
& Friends -namely Meilana Gillard
on sax, Shannon Barnett
on trombone, and Carroll herself, Emilia Martensson
and Sara Colman
on vocals -lifted spirits out of their chair-bound vessels and up to the skies. On their rendition of "Bye Bye Blackbird" the three vocalists blended their voices together with all the skill of Arachneshe who dared challenge the goddess of crafts Athena to a weaving contest -threading her God-shaming tapestry. And when any one of them took a scat solo smiles cracked open like eggshells underfoot. Exposing the crowd's inner joy to the stage lights.
It is the mark of a true artist -not a mere theorist or player -when a whole theatre of people are unafraid to release themselves. With no hint of self-consciousness, Liane Carroll brought out all the glee lying beneath the crowd's veneers of day-jobs and duties. Her strong, without being domineering, stage presence could probably have done it with her smile alone. But by singing through that smile from deep within herself, she made it impossible for even the meanest cur to remain unmoved.
Carlos Santana famously said that five things must go into every note: "soul, heart, mind, body, and cojones." And over the course of Liane Carroll & Friends's show, no note lacked in any of those qualities. Even Dr. David Lyttle
's expertly played drums mirrored the humanity of the vocalists' performances.
With a Tom Waits stoop in his shoulders, Lyttle made expansive use of his kit. No tone left unheard. No seam un-mined. And as many different sounds were pulled out of his small jazz drum-set as any composer could get out of an orchestra's entire percussion section. When he raked the butt of his drumstick across his cymbal the resulting screech sent chills down the spine. Lending an undercurrent of menace to the atmosphere of the show. Keeping the captive crowd on the balls of their feet.
Emilia Mårtensson's singing bobbed and weaved like a great boxer. She lured the crowd close with a whisper, then sent them flying with a note strong as Ali's right hook. With her mass of kinky blonde curls flying about her, she stretched and cast the notes and phrases into her desired shapes. The airwaves were her clay, her sculptures instant and fleeting. No one the same as another. And every tune she took would have filled a gallery with marvels.
Each musician up there could have held the audience hostage on their own. Meilana Gillard's attack in her saxophone playing would have fought off wolves. While Shannon Barnett's trombone-intro on Duke Ellington's "Heaven" brought people to the edges of their seats. As if they thought that by closing the distance between themselves and her they would suddenly understand how someone could play with such discipline, but so freely at the same time.
However it was when all the musicians came together onstage that the cauldron truly started to bubble. Spitting magic into the stalls. John Goldsby
and Malcolm Edmonstone
underpinned the five leaders -on double bass and piano respectively. While Carroll, Mårtensson, and Colman shot for the stratosphere Goldsby hoisted them just that extra inch higher with the harmonics he slipped into his basslines. And while the voices were far from snow-pure, the sax and trombone gave the sound an extra bite. A crunch that sank its teeth into the listener.
The interplay between every musician onstage -from Colman's exquisite scatting down to Lyttle's syncopations -held the house in its jaws. And as the musicians moved offstage one-by-one until only the three vocalists remained, the hush was broken only by their harmonies. Reverent silence juxtaposed against transcendent music.
Then they too disappeared backstage. And for a split hair-raising second there was silence. Then the applause and cheers rushed in to fill the space with the crowd's wonder. No encore. No curtain call. Just the echoes of Liane Carroll & Friends's performance reverberating in the minds of 340 very lucky folk.
In the bar all of the eight musicians mingled with the audience. Demolishing any barrier that threatened to sneak its way in between the fans and the performers. And emphasising the shared humanity between the admirers, the musicians, and the music that belongs to them all.
It's a cycle: the movement of thought from player to listener and back. What begins as a musician's idea becomes a musical phrase or even a single note. It then moves to the listeners who give their own interpretations and reactions back to the player. And as the music and reactions flow back and forth, they free themselves of any sole owner. Becoming a communal chalice for all to drink from.
And as the congregation moved through the warm Summer-night air to the Riverside Hotel where the evening's jam session had already begun, there was not a thirsty soul. Some went down the Lungy and onto Charles Street. While others moved in the opposite direction, straight past that bookstore and Sligo Cathedral. Their talk followed them down the road. Driving the cycle onwards.
The smokers lounged at tables by the river, sending grey clouds skyward. The double doors at the back of the Riverside Hotel's bar stood open and the sounds of the jam flowed outside to join the smokers' idle chatting. Inside the kids -16, 17, 18 -honed their craft the old-fashioned way: In front of an audience. SJP's tutors joined in or shouted their drink orders over the music to the barmen. David Lyttle presided over the Riverside's evening jam sessions all week and made sure everyone got their shot. For as much as they learned in the masterclasses, experience's teachings cannot be bettered. Day one's coda played out in that packed barroom. And on and on it stretched into the wee hours. Only ending because the barman called for last orders. There were another five days ahead. And they started at 10:00AM. So finally the coda faded out. Only to be replaced by a new day's song.
July 25, 2018
Grainy black and white footage of Louis Armstrong
performing in Copenhagen in 1933 played projected on the blank wall of the auditorium. His eyes bulged as he leaned into the microphone. Behind him, his Hot Harlem Band made history as they backed him up on "Dinah." According to Miles Davis
, the first half of jazz's saga can be summed up in two words -"Louis Armstrong." And after seeing this remarkable footage it would be hard to argue against that point.
Armstrong wore his passion, visible in his excited body language and heard in that gravelled voice, on his sleeve. At that age between the two world wars, jazz was young. And its youthful vitality was captured on that day in '33. So that the future world could watch this wunderkind-genre as it first began to exert itself. And to be duly recognised for it.
In its youth, segregation and racism cast down the achievements and expertise of jazz's black instigators. Aligning them with sin and the corruption of the young and vulnerable. By doing so the worth of jazz and its practitioners was oppressed. In an attempt to quash not just an art, but a people. Under the false name of God and the upholding of "decency." However back in the 21st century, a silver-haired gentleman stood at a lectern stage-right and looked over his glasses at a crowd of young, "vulnerable," people. A knowledge-hungry youth audience who far from being discouraged, were heartened to follow this musical road once thought pollutive. So where before dogma and hate once reigned learning and compassion now abound. Proving that jazz, and indeed all art, is a promethean force. Sparking the flames that move human evolution towards a deeper understanding and awareness of each other.
It was a small but attentive crowd that faced the man at the lectern -himself a picture of understated cool. And it was their instrument cases that lay balanced against the front wall. Liane Carroll sat grinning in the first row. And the man leading the proceedings was one of her accompanists from Tuesday night's performance: John Goldsby, of the double bass.
He's an American man out of Louisville, Kentucky. Nowadays he calls Germany home. And aside from lending his considerable skills to many performances over the week, leading a student-ensemble, and teaching the art of the bass, he came to Ireland to educate the gathered on the history of jazz. Hence the Satchmo footage.
With seamless speed, he brought the story from Armstrong to Coleman Hawkins and his infamous first-take recording of "Body And Soul." Lester Young got some of his trademark sayings in -"How's the bread smell?" "Have you got eyes?" "Ivey Divey." Before Art Tatum appeared from the projector performing "Yesterdays." And Goldsby segued into the big band era.
He acknowledged an oft-overlooked truth when at the end of his lecture he said "it's all jazz." Even though it's the bebop combo that provided the instrumental format for the student ensembles, and even though he stopped shy of free jazz and fusion, to Goldsby it's all creative expression. Each as valid a form as the next.
Afterwards, he chatted to Shannon Barnett as the SJP participants filed out of the lecture hall to join the flow of other students and instructors in Sligo IT's hallways. The day bloomed sunny and the rays beamed down through skylights and open windows on the coffee-queue and the wandering musicians. Conversations on jazz and its masters filled the air. Gradually fading away as the teachers and students moved on to their classes.
In one lecture hall, cathal roche
led a class of 10 woodwind students -ranging from flautists to saxophonists -through a range of exercises. Exercises that may seem simple on paper but, like any good brain teaser, tangle the mind.
Roche's job, and indeed the job of all of SJP's instructors, was to teach the pupils how to untie the Gordian knots of jazz. To train them to see how one thread relates to another. And thus how to make sense of the music's puzzles.
Roche instructed his class to play all the notes of a chromatic scale but in a random order. So as to reveal how each note sounds alongside the others. Allowing for wider melodic and improvisational exploration. For many of these learners this was uncharted territory. A fresh angle on a scale that after countless run-throughs, would inevitably become boring and staid.
This angle revealed new facets to the diamond. New, compelling refractions and tone-colours. A mark of Roche's ability as an educator.
Just down the hall, Federico Malaman and Dirty Loops' bassist Henrik Linder shared with their class of electric bass-guitarists the fine art of how to walk the bass. Beginning with the foundationscorrect fingering for minor and major-key walking basslines -the teacher-duo built upwards. Explaining about the different thirds and sevenths required to make the walk steady and purposeful. As the extroverted Malaman and the quiet Linder passed on this understanding their students listened, captivated. Gripped by each word and every step of the bass line's walk.
Paul Clarvis, Nicolas Viccaro
, Neal Wilkinson
, and Steve Davis
educated the other half of the rhythm section in a classroom midway down a dead-end hall. Clarvis plucked his students one-by-one from their seats and sat them down at a snare drum. In order to observe their techniques and offer his expert direction.
He praised one student's "good, healthy sound." But stressed that more importantly, they were "starting to listen to the sound," they were getting from a single strike of the snare. Emphasising that simplest piece of musical wisdom: the importance of listening.
A nugget of truth so simple that it is often forgotten. Watching the likes of Clarvis and David Lyttle on stage, it became apparent that they are as Viccaro said to one student, "aware of each sound you can get on the snare." And indeed from the rest of the drum-set. The small jazz-style kits that most of these drummers favour are thin but rich seams. And they mine their four, five, or even three-piece kits for every sonic possibility they can. All the while listening closely to what Clarvis calls "the shape of the phrase." And computing the appropriate response to that phrase.
Any musician as steeped in musical theory as SJP's instructors are will tell you that music is mathematical. From the physics of sound waves down to simply dividing up the beat, music is numerical. But not strict. And it is free -but not undisciplined. So while all of these virtuosos calculate music with the speed and efficiency of supercomputers, they are not soulless. As they react or lay out to a musical phrase, it is not simply a reaction on the exact mathematical level. It is also a reaction on the emotional and spiritual planes. The Sligo Jazz Project would not work if it operated solely on quote-un-quote "correct" musicianship. But just as Stephen Hawking could not have written A Brief History Of Time without moving in the grey-area called creativity, no artist can create without employing the sciences. Be they grammatical, mathematical, or musical, these seemingly disparate threads interweave beautifully. Until their finest fibres are wrapped about each other. Joe Stoddart
's youth belies the musical wisdom he has collected over his handful of years. But sitting cross-legged somewhere behind his trademark sunglasses is a sage. And when he plays his Fender jazz bass all that wisdom is revealed through his complementary, but unrestrained, basslines.
He is free to deviseand often improvise, as he would reveal -what form his basslines will take. But these are lines that serve the sound's whole rather than his ego. And with Federico Malaman seated at the Steinway and Nicolas Viccaro wielding his luminous-green sticks behind the drum-set, the opening jam of Joe Dart's "Groove masterclass" displayed his disciplined style in all its funky elegance.
It was a joyful, major-key intro. As loose and informal as the class itself. Afterwards with Malaman and Dart seated onstage at the Hawk's Well Theatre, their good-humours proved as infectious as any salt-worthy rhythm section. Without ever dropping his smile, Dart moved the conversation from his family homestead to the barrooms around University of Michigan -his home-state back in the USA -and onward to the audience's questions. Queries he answered enthusiastically. Informing the development of the groove's future. Malaman was quizmaster for the afternoon. But like any good interview it was the interviewee that swayed the dialogue. Dart explained that as a kid in Michigan, he grew up in a large musical family. His grandfather was a classical violinist. And each of his four siblings played music. Eventually he was assigned to the bass guitar in the rock band setup the clan kept in their basement. And it was through familial support, a few good teachers, and his time at Flea's -of Red Hot Chili Peppersmusic camp, that Dart cemented his relationship with the electric bass. A relationship that now provides him with his livelihood and his creative satisfaction.
Joe Dart's name is synonymous with his two bands: Vulfpeck, and The Olllam. Both groups grew out of his year at University of Michigan, where he joined a band called My Dear Disco. The members of which went on to form Dart's current groups. Guitarist Theo Katzman forming Vulfpeck. And Tyler Duncan putting together The Olllam.
It was with The Olllam that Dart first came to Ireland's shores. And it is with them he returned. To play, later that evening, the very same stage from which Malaman and himself preached their art form.
And just like any other art form Dart's bass playing wasn't fashioned in a vacuum. He was influenced by Earth, Wind & Fire
, and the horn section/band Tower of Power
. When an audience-member asked if he had ever transcribed horn solos, Dart cited saxophonist Maceo Parker
as an influence. Along with Stevie Wonder
's lefthand playing on the keyboards.
He praised James Jamerson
's masterful playing with Marvin Gaye. And, inevitably, Jaco Pastorius
. But it was Michael Peter "Flea," Balzary that was mentioned again and again. Not in hushed or reverent tones. But always with great affection and regard.
It was Flea that formed Dart's slap-bass style. A style he calls "caveman physics," and is as upfront and hard as its name suggests. Dart explained that his goal was to "get faster." And when he tore into the strings in demonstration, his success could not be doubted.
The speed and force of his slap-playing is at marked odds with the subtle finger-style ghost notes he employed on Vulfpeck's "It Gets Funkier." And when Malaman stood up to jam with Dart and Viccaro on that tune, all traces of hardness disappeared from Dart's playing.
Neither domineering nor bullish, he moved seamlessly into his role as groove-bearer: always upholding the coherency of the track, while always propelling it forwards. Not a note was wasted. Yet at the same time, Dart was never miserly with them. Sacrificing the spotlight to the music. Rather than hogging it for his own ego.
When the applause gave way, Malaman turned to the crowd and offered them the chance to ask their questions. And as keen as the audience were to seize this chance, Dart was just as willing to pass on his knowledge. He shared his thoughts on home-recording and how best to build up strength in the picking hand. He explained the philosophy behind his bass-soloing: about keeping it rooted in the groove and building a melodic "arc." Even when one ardent student asked for the secret behind his sound, Dart did not shy away. But said that despite all the talk of pickups and strings, his sound "truly comes, from the sunglasses."
Wisdom and entertainment are too often placed at opposite poles. And rarely do the twain meet -as they did in Bill Hicks's standup and Frank Zappa's LPs. However, watching Dart and co. jam on "Beastly" was an education in marrying those alien worlds. All the eloquence of the wise met entertainment's disregard for inhibition. And the groove that convergence produced swept the crowd along. Who readily surrendered to the sound-waves. Soaking up their echoes even after they had faded out.
Albert Camus once wrote "a man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened." So as the class moved towards its close, with one priceless nugget left to dig up, it was fitting that some of the final words belonged to Flea. One of Dart's first "great and simple images."
In a handwritten reply to a fan letter Joe sent him, Flea told him to "always remember that bass is a supportive instrument." The bass line is the tightrope that the lead instruments walk. A thread strong as spider-silk that runs through the band, linking each element to the others. Even on records like Californication, one of Dart's early influences, where the bass is "the loudest thing in the mix" it plays the the supportive roles of both engine and helm. Driving the sound forward as it steers the ship on its course.
After nearly an hour, Dart's masterclass had almost made landfall. Federico picked up his own bass as Dart too readied himself and Viccaro cocked his drumsticks for the closing jam. And as the trio grooved into "Deantown," the crowd sang along to the wordless tune's bass line. The riff's heft shouldering the audience's voices as the music sailed on towards its close.
Time moved slowly by as the day reluctantly surrendered to night's darkness. While the faithful returned to the Hawk's Well Theatre, the sunset threw shades of yellow across midday's clear blues. And layer by layer the sky outside was painted black as Federico Malaman and Henrik Linder's Two Bass Hit threw shapes and colours into the stalls. With Viccaro on the drum-stool and pianist Scott Flanigan
at the Steinway, these virtuosos brought a comic-edge to a night that could have easily fallen into the self-indulgence snare.
However, the quartet expertly manoeuvred around that pitfall trap. Malaman danced with a total lack of inhibition or self-seriousness. And while Linder preferred to accompany his more upfront band mate with chords, he too never vanished into indulgence. So even though, as Joe Dart acknowledged in his masterclass, bass solos should be "kept to a minimum," Two Bass Hit's concert of bass soloing transcended self-gratification. And instead, took an arresting new slant on the possibilities of the rhythm section. And proved that the often disregarded bass guitar is a vital instrument in its own right.
Building from the beat up, Viccaro's drumming left nothing to the imagination. There was nothing "implied" in his timekeeping. Rather he attacked his large kit with a funking groove that kept the beat squared and well defined. Operating as they do in the lower frequencies, the dual bass guitars' sound could become muddied. Viccaro provided a sharpness to the sound. A set of teeth behind Malaman's joker's grin.
Stage-left, Flanigan sent chords shimmering through the airwaves. Providing expansive plateaus for the basses to explore. Two Bass Hit's performance was a concert of funk and groove. So the sound needed to be kept appropriately loose and spacious in order to give the music room to do just that: To funk and to groove.
While not biting like Viccaro's drumming, Flanigan's piano-playing contrasted against the bass guitars' fuzzy warmth. Not in any sort of cold, austere manner. But in its openness and lucidity. The basses were the hearth and the fire, while the piano ushered the listener in the door and into their armchair. With open arms and a welcoming smile.
Malaman and Linder's styles could not have been more different. Linder preferred to stand back and provide accompaniment to Malaman more upfront, unabashed style. And even when he took a solo Linder's playing was more reserved. No less worthy or passionate than Malaman's. But less immediately gripping in comparison to the speed of his co-bassist's lead lines. This difference of styles kept the two bass guitars from tripping over each other. As Two Bass Hit funked through their set, each instrument moved around the other. Interweaving in layers of syncopation and consonance.
Mid-show, Malaman introduced a tune of his and Linder's own devising -a musical odyssey from their childhoods up to the present day. Beginning presumably in utero, the opening amorphous waves of sound wrapped themselves around the audience. Cloaking them in a haze of bubbling basslines.
Then, with the humour that had already become their trademark, Two Bass Hit segued seamlessly into "Under The Sea," from Disney's The Little Mermaid. Combined with the comedy of that swift tune-switch, Malaman's equally swift footwork had the crowd bent double in laughter. There are those that say comedy and music shouldn't mix. That music is too quote-un-quote "serious" an art form to be fraternising with the plebeian medium of comedy. But any naysayer would have been eloquently shut-up upon seeing Two Bass Hit onstage. Watching the quartet manipulate their instruments with all their hard-won virtuosity left no doubt as to their musical worth. And the fact that they radiated such infectious joy while they did it made their melding of the comedic with the musical an incredibly potent cocktail.
Their grand finale was an instrumental take on Michael Jackson's "Working Day And Night." And when the chorus riff kicked in mirroring the original's hook, there was not a still body in the stalls. Each soul rocked by the rhythms of a band that transcended the self-imposed limits of what their instruments could do.
Betwixt Two Bass Hit's and The Olllam's sets, the former's members moved among their crowd of newly acquired fans. Accepting their well-deserved praise with all the humility of the true greats. Malaman, Linder, Flanigan and Viccaro brought the rhythm section into the foreground. Giving it a too-brief moment under the spotlight whilst throwing laughter in for good measure. Proving both the bass's and comedy's detractors wrong. And cementing not just the worth, but the necessity, of both.
Just as Ireland's ancient traditional music moved across the Atlantic to the New World, it returned to Eire's shores for the Sligo Jazz Project in a new, modern form. The Olllam refracted their twin low whistles and pipes through the post-rock prism of drums, electric bass, keys, and acoustic guitar. And the resulting rainbow revealed new shades and hues to both genres. Uncovering unexplored corners of the rainbow.
Drummer Michael Shimmin took simple time signatures4/4 or 3/4and syncopated them in such a masterful fashion that they sounded as exotic as 13/8 or 9/8 time. With only a bass drum, snare, and cymbal, he dug up ever possibility from the beat. And as a mark of his creativity, never did the seam run dry.
Atop this sound base of creativity, Sean O'Meara placed glistening finger-picked chords. Chords that were almost visible in their shine. His wide vibrato swayed the listener as it moved above the note, then below, and back and forth over it. Teasing the last dregs of passion out of that one note. Not for the want of ideas. Not because he couldn't think of where to venture to next. But because there were corners and nuances to that note that needed mapping.
As Joe Dart and Shimmin grooved in their singular fashion, Tyler Duncan and John McSherry led the crowd by their noses with their pipes and whistles. Those pied pipers could have led the audience to the depths of Hades. But they would have willingly followed their sweet tunes to the bottom of any Hell-pit.
Thankfully, Duncan and McSherry were more concerned with ascension. And with all the gentle strength of the wind, their airs lifted the crowd skyward. The traditional base of their tunes made them seem familiar, the way a word may ring faint bells. But in the context of the band, they sounded as interesting and new as the folk songs of an alien planet.
Over the course of their no-gimmickry set, the sextet shone bright and brilliant as a naked flame. Joe Hettinga's keyboard solo was stratospheric, and Joe Dart's bass playing made full use of all the wisdom he espoused during his masterclass. Realms and ages met during The Olllam's concert: old Ireland met the modern New World. But rather than war with each other, they merged to form an exciting, promising new sound.
Comedian Eddie Izzard claimed that Europe could be "the biggest melting pot in the world." But America, with its constant influx of peoples, could also make a claim for that title. The Olllam have melded the two pots in a cauldron of their own design. And they have smelted the precious metals from their ores. Working them into the intricate native crafts of this new land.
The Olllam welded these disparate styles together into a crest-bearing shield. Their crest, as identifiable as any monarchy's, is one of ingenuity and creativity. If it were an actual image it would portray the nine muses, with Euterpe the muse of music in the centre.
As the crowd moved out of the theatre and into the night's freshly-painted darkness, with church bells ringing in 11:00PM, The Olllam's 21st century folk tunes faded out in the crowds' minds. Their music seemed as familiar as daylight, but as exciting as darkness. Like the very best of love affairs.
At the Riverside, the evening jam was underway. The bar was wedged and the Guinness flowed easy as the laughter. Just as mankind's ancient ancestors realised, music is powerful. Politics rarely brings together even as many people as were in the Riverside that Wednesday night. But music does it at least every weekend. And you can bet that, sure as the sun will shine, politics has never provided as valuable a service as the Sligo Jazz Project.
As shamans use music to bring themselves and their tribespeople closer to their gods, SJP uses music to bring people closer to each other. A deeply spiritual and profound mission to encourage the movement of compassion and humanity between all people.
Music is primarily about that communication. And without free speech, there can be no communication. But while free speech is enshrined in the constitutions of the Western World, it is our responsibility to search through the resulting ignorance to find the truth and love buried beneath. Sligo Jazz Project facilitates that search. People are rarely born with the tools required to make that search fruitful. But through SJP's championing of jazz and the education thereon, these skills are shared out among the people. Jazz is an eloquent, intelligent, and emotive form of communication. And the Sligo Jazz Project makes the world just a little better, because it promotes those very qualities. Not just in musicianship. But in living.
Photo credit: Lieve Boussauw