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Sligo Jazz Project 2018: Days 1-2

James Fleming By

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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 Arachne—she 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.

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