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Sligo Jazz Project 2018: Days 1-2

James Fleming By

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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 signatures—4/4 or 3/4—and 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.


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