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Sligo Jazz Project 2018: Days 3-4

James Fleming By

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Outside the day was ageing. The sun sank to the west. Coming down to sit upon the horizon as Sligo's work-week came to an end. The evening beckoned. With a siren's call it lured the town to the Hawk's Well Theatre. Where at 8:00PM Brian Byrne would walk onstage to perform Goldenhair. SJP's second-to-last show at the Hawk's Well. The festival's end loomed close and unwelcome. No one wanted the week to finish. No one wanted its coda to fade out. So the fans and participants, volunteers and faculty, drew every last drop of enjoyment from the well. And savoured each one.

It took him "six or seven years." Between film-score contracts and writing "what they want you to write," Brian Byrne chipped away at Goldenhair's marble. Out of James Joyce's poetry and his own imagination he sculpted a record of 17 songs. Modernising a vanished world just as Joyce did with Homer's Odyssey in Ulysses. Those years brought Byrne and his new world to the Hawk's Well Theatre's stage. And as his performance that Friday night in July proved, they will bring him further. Further on down the road he led his rapt audience along. Byrne sat down at the Steinway as his cousin William walked up to the microphone. While Paul Clarvis clacked strung-together seashells, "Play On's" pre-recorded intro of pipes and Glenn Close's poetry-reading played. William Byrne stood silent at the mic. Awaiting his cue. And when at last he sang it was in a voice strong as ocean waves. His accompaniment was spare. A lean musical land. But hidden beneath its deceptive sparseness was a vibrant world. Where the double bass's understated vibrato shook like autumn leaves. And the piano's jazzy licks butterfly-flitted across the soundscape.

William grinned as his cousin's nimble piano solo sped along the keys from open chords to the song's inspired, shimmering climax. The applause rose to fill the airspace left by the music's end as Brian stood up to thank William and introduce the next guest. A talent who could handle all challenges thrown at her. From singing salsa to Irish "sean nós" singing to speaking Portuguese. And with that high praise ringing through the air, Lucianne Evans walked onstage. To take up the tune of Byrne's "When The Shy Star."

Between her entrance and the slight bow of her exit Evans sang with a vital, dynamic voice. Smiling all the way along the melody's path. Quiet brass accompaniment walked her down the tune. Rising in volume and drama as they went. And when they reached Evans's subtly melismatic finale every word of Byrne's praiseful introduction was proved true. As true and honest as her voice.

In lieu of vocals Paul Booth's saxophone and Ryan Quigley's trumpet carried the melody of "Though Love Live But A Day." Booth took the lead with playing so tender you could hear the click of the sax's keys. Ushering in the tune with a warm, full-hearted tone. A tone that contrasted starkly with the concentration of Quigley's own sound. Who focused his emotion to the finest of lyrical points. Delivering his verse with pinpoint accuracy. Not once missing the evocative, emotional bullseye.

When Booth stepped into the spotlight again he raised the tune higher. Ascending into the upper register. He played with more heft and muscle as he built up the suspense. Driving up the tension while he stretched the crowd's nerves tight. Before diving down into bass-note territory. Ending on a low, deep, note. A note that laid a solid foundation for Quigley's solo. That, underpinned by the simplest bass line, opened with a long, drawn, note. He threw in the briefest flash of ornamentation. Before he let fly with a high that cut like a sunbeam and followed that with a short, sharp flurrying lick. The bass played octaves far below. With the hypnotic rhythm safe in its hands, Booth and Quigley joined forces to play the melody in unison. For a finale the sax darted below the final note. Then rose to meet it. And ended on a fulfilling, yet tantalising close. Like the best of movie-endings, it was satisfying but left things unresolved. Setting the usually idle consumer's gears turning.

Byrne directed the band from the piano. Leading them through Evans's psyche-stirring return on "A Little Ashes (Sweetheart)." And on to William and Liane Carroll's duet of "Love Is Aweary." A slow, silver-toned number. Where the band left the stage to leave the vocalists backed only by the ivories. William harmonised Carroll's hushed, intimate vocals as Byrne's glissandi skated around their voices. It was a short, sweet tune. Fine as silk or frosted webs. A world away from the big-band stomp of Evans's and William's duet on "The Winds Of May." A burst of song that roared as joyfully as any of the jazz-age's champagne parties.

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