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Sligo Jazz Project 2018: Days 1-2

James Fleming By

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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 realms—free 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.


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