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5

Sligo Jazz Project 2018: Days 1-2

James Fleming By

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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 foundations—correct 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 devise—and 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.

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