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Sligo Jazz Project 2018: Days 3-4

James Fleming By

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The vocalists faced each other. Singing directly to their partner in voices that fit together as if they were tailored to. A brilliant staccato brass riff sparked the tune to life. Jolting and rocking the song through its form to a sharp, sudden, stop. In any one of the tracks performed that night there was more music than in most artists' careers. And the abrupt finish emphasised that point like a musical exclamation mark. There was no more to be said. The point had been proven.

But there was still the second set. And even if there was no doubt in anyone's mind as to the brilliance of Goldenhair, it was a pleasure just to hear the music come to life. To experience the animal in the wild.

William hummed over the drums' intro-beat. A rhythm he rode into the opening lines of "Why Have You Left Me Alone (I Hear An Army)." The piano spat louder chords between the gentler, subdued ones that supported his voice. And as the brass kicked in and the volume surged from piano to forte, Carroll's voice joined William's with enough strength to match the rest of the band by herself. While a heavy, anchoring bass line kept the band moored to this earth. Ensuring that the song's punchy physicality was not lost in translation.

A seven note horn riff ushered in Mike Nielsen Quartet's guitar solo. A tasty, inventive exploration beyond most players' comfort zone of the pentatonic scale. Incisive and pointed, his playing was a marked contrast against Linley Hamilton's. Where a trumpeter like Chet Baker could descend into emotionless depths of "cool," Hamilton wore his heart on his sleeve. And gave an unabashedly emotive, thrilling performance as a result.

"Cool" is a dangerous concept. To quest for cool is to beg for others' validation. To hide your own emotions and insecurities in plain sight. Rather than face up to and conquer them.

Instead of fighting the good fight to harness one's humanity, "cool" represses it. But that battle, that utilising of emotion, has birthed the great masterworks. From Picasso's paintings to Ginsberg's Howl to A Love Supreme, rather than crushing emotion those artists embraced it. And steered it down their individual roads to expression.

Just as Hamilton and his following virtuosos did in their solos. Paul Booth's return ended on a thrilling repeated R&B lick. A repetition that laid down the road for Shannon Barnett's trombone showcase to walk. Before she freed herself from its set direction to wander through faster runs, lithe as a cat. And when she ascended to the heavens on the root chord's back, she raised the audience up to the tune's peak. To the summit of Byrne's composition.

The band laid back through Matthew Halpin's more subdued solo. Moving through the angular introduction of Byrne's piano cadenza to his climactic, jarring, beautiful note. A note that signalled the drums' buildup into the final chorus. The song built up and up on the ride cymbal while Clarvis played a bass drum and a floor tom with his bare hands. Climbing, scaling, building, up until the vocals returned at the boiling point. Returned to sweep the Hawk's Well away with their spirited joyfulness.

Emotions are contagious. Infectious as any physical ailment. And the delight of the performers spread through the theatre's air. An exhilaration that was juxtaposed against the slow, Tom Waits-inspired "The Year Is Gathering." A song of old love and Autumn. One that's words lend themselves more to quiet melancholia than exuberance. But William carried both tune and lyric with confident enthusiasm. Driving the volume skyward before it dropped back to earth for a soft finale. An understated, artful close.

When Evans sang "dear heart why will you use me so?" on "Where Love Is," heartstrings broke. Her slight, assured melismas carried more than their weight in emotion. And when coupled with her faraway stare, the sore sadness of the song was unmistakeable. Joyce was a lonely young man when he wrote Chamber Music. A young adult who wandered the streets of Dublin longing for love. The words of "Where Love Is" are eloquent enough on the page. But in Byrne's adaptation, their impact is twice as strong. And in Evans's masterful hands their message cut to the core of the listener. The most calloused hides were pierced. The stoniest souls moved. So that when tears rolled down Evans's face at the song's end it was met with a flood of applause. A release of the built-up emotion in the stalls.


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