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Sue Rynhart at The Cresent Arts Centre

Ian Patterson By

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Sue Rynhart
The Crescent Arts Centre
Belfast, N. Ireland
September 7, 2017

Beatroot, Moving On Music's folk 'n' roots music festival, returned for its third annual outing with a typically eclectic line-up that embraced contemporary folk music of the broadest possible spectrum. With almost as much cross-genre pollination in folk as there is in jazz these days, more and more artists defy facile categorization.

Sue Rynhart, who opened the four-night festival in the Crescent Arts Centre, is a case in point. A singer- songwriter with a poet's sensibility, Rynhart's debut album Crossings: Songs for Voice and Double Bass (Mrsuesue Records, 2015) wove a beguiling tapestry that flirted with Sean-nós, jazz and beat poetry. Her impressive follow-up, Signals (Mrsuesue Records, 2017) widened the sonic pallet, and if anything, moved further beyond category towards a highly individual sound. This Belfast concert, moreover, saw Rynhart leading an expanded line-up, chasing new sounds.

First up, however, The Robert Stuka Trio gave a high-energy performance of jazz manouch in the style of Django Reinhardt. Patrick Deme-Soto on double bass and Andrew Toman on rhythm guitar provided infectious, foot-tapping rhythms, firing Slovakian guitarist Stuka to some wonderfully dexterous solos brimming with passion.

Toman lent his sonorous vocals to a stomping version of "All of Me" and a wonderfully grooving take on Soft Cell's "Tainted Love." The bulk of the set, however, revolved around instrumental gypsy-jazz staples such as "Lullaby of Birdland," "Honeysuckle Rose," "Sweet Georgia Brown," Reinhardt's own "Dream of You," and Ninine Garcia's breezy "Paquito."

The notable exception was Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely," which almost inevitably sounded more contemporary, perhaps because it didn't mold itself easily to the prevailing rhythmic blueprint. The sole ballad, "Dance Norvegienne"—another tune beloved of Reinhardt—provided a timely change of mood, before the trio shifted up gears again to sign off with "Hit the Road Jack." Impressively, this was the Robert Stuka Trio's first gig on a proper stage, having come together only a week before following the late pull-out of another band from the festival. With its driving energy, instrumental prowess and infectious grooves, the Robert Stuka Trio seems well set to conquer new territories.

After several years playing as a duo with Dan Bodwell, Rynhart has, of late, begin to expand her sonic dynamics in collaborations with pianist/keyboardists Franceso Turrisi, Darragh O'Kelly, and on this Belfast stage with Justin Carroll. From the opening number "Be Content," Carrol's sunny, blues-tinged jazz runs—reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi—lent a new frame to Rynhart's compositions.

Despite Rynhart releasing her second CD only six months ago almost half the set was made up of new songs, a sure sign of a forward-looking artist. Nimble rhythms, evocative lyrics and striking melodies were Rynhart's stock in trade, with Carrol's splashes of color and sympathetic comping taking some of the weight off Bodwell's shoulders. One track in particular, built on riffing arco and piano motifs bristled with the energy of a Radiohead anthem, but for the most part Rynhart wove more subtle charms, her influences enigmatically elusive.

A hint of folkloric mythology imbued "Foxed," Rynhart's lyrics as seductive as her lilting delivery. On this bewitching number, Carrol's jazz-inflected comping and solo transforming a song that, in its previous incarnation, perhaps represented Rynhart's closest brush with Irish traditional song. "Better than You"—quirky, witty and oh so catchy—and the ethereal ballad "Little Sparrow" were highlights, but Rynhart is one of those artists, like Joni Mitchell or Tom Waits, whose 'greatest hits' will likely mean very different things to different people. "The Silliest Game," in fact, could almost have come from Mitchell's early songbook. "In Between"—with Bodwell on arco and Rynhart on mbira—and "Black as The Crow Flies" held some of the dreamy gothic allure of Susanne Sundfør, but Rynhart charts her own course, as the set-closer "Somewhere to Go" served to remind, the singer's jaunty vocal rhythms buoyed by close-knit piano and bass ostinatos.

This trio combo still has the feel of a work in progress, the meeting of jazz with Rynhart's folksier and more experimental vocal forays not always gelling entirely convincingly. Like any new line-up, it will take a while to refashion the material and polish the execution. You get the feeling, however, that the pursuit of musical adventure, warts and all, is what motivates Rynhart—an original, captivating talent.

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