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Sligo Jazz Project 2018: Days 3-4

James Fleming By

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Mårtensson took up the microphone. Joined on each alternate line by her co-vocalists' harmonies. Atop the rhythm section's urban groove they glided smooth as a sports-car on asphalt. Cool, sharp. While in and around the lyric, Mike Walker's bluesy guitar licks occupied the space filled by Larry Carlton on the original LP. Painting the number with sound-strokes so subtle they were almost camouflaged against the band. Not unnoticeable. Not invisible. But hidden just beneath the surface. Barbed fishing hooks that caught the ear and reeled in the listener.

Beneath his crisp guitar solo the trumpets fired short flurries of notes. Accurate as a platoon of marksmen. Pointed as eloquent sentences. The virtuosic Ryan Quigley's solo was cool as any of Chet Baker's without seeming detached or uncaring. Contrasting against the alto saxophonist's welcoming, warm solo. A yin-yang jazz dichotomy.

The eight-bar solos moved from Quigley to alto sax to trombone and back. Each player distinguishing themselves from the last. Adding their signatures to the bottom of Edmonstone's big band constitution. Who's arrangements, even though the vocals sang of the potential for armageddon, were joyous. Even uplifting. He conducted from the Steinway with grand gestures. Movements that betrayed his own overflowing enthusiasm. A passion mirrored by the band members. There was not a soul onstage who wanted to be elsewhere. Not a dragging limb on the beast.

"What a team!" as Edmonstone would later exclaim between numbers. No one but he had seen the music before 4:30PM that afternoon. Yet it was like watching a wolf pack in action. Wild and loose and easy as instinct. But purposeful and thoughtful too. As a movie-crew must all be on the same page, each member working towards the common creative goal, an orchestra's players must all be on the same wavelength. Be it a baroque, a classical, or a jazz orchestra, each member must pull their weight to make the music's message coherent. However, it's the composer/arranger's job to write the message. To make sure it's a worthwhile and righteous statement. And Edmonstone did an excellent job.

Without his leadership and expert adaptations, "Nightfly & Other Stories" would have lacked its distinctive tone. As a novel or short-story collection has a narrative tone running through it, he sewed a common musical thread throughout his orchestrations. Danceable, moving grooves and declarative brass lines brought the lyrics to life. So as Colman sang of "jazz and conversation" on the LP's title track, Edmonstone's music squeezed every drop of nostalgia out of the line. That time is gone now. When jazz and conversation were not only enjoyed, but were vital. The Nightfly captured that vanished age on its vinyl grooves. And Edmonstone brought them to life onstage with the lightning of his creativity. Each note infused with care and thought.

The short shock of "Walk Between The Raindrops" charged the stalls with vigour. Its ska-like offbeat groove snapped and fizzed like an action sequence. Alive with all the animated spirit of a blockbuster film but with all the élan of a red-carpet treader. Liane Carroll sang of romance and Miami. Of big hotels, Florida's shores and the rain. And as the lyric's couple dodged the raindrops the band moved just as deftly. In and around the tricky rhythm. Hopping from one offbeat stepping-stone to the next. Never falling into the song's rush.

When the last echoes of the coda faded the crowd filled the space with their approval. Pouring their gratitude into the sonic gap left by the band's exit. Until at last their demands were met. And Edmonstone and his band returned to the stage for the encore of "Green Flower Street." Raising the crowd from their seats as they expressed their joy in movement. Through dance and applause they spoke twice as much as they ever could with only language. And through all their movements not a bad word was said. Not a soul was untouched. No person left unmoved.

At the Riverside Hotel post-show the jam went on into the night. The members of the SJP big band moved among their students and friends as the music that brought them together surfed the sound-waves. Dashing itself against their consciousnesses. Leaving experience, memories and learning on the shores of their psyches.

July 27, 2018

The sky rested on the flat-topped mountains beyond Sligo town. Grey, punctuated by pools of blue. The warehouses and garages and the gym that squat low by the harbour were just beginning to stir with their employees and the delivery vans. And the arrhythmic sounds of the clanging metal doors and the river's flow beat on the still morning air.

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