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Aengus Hackett Quartet Plays The Music of Cole Porter at Black Gate Cultural Centre

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Aengus Hackett Quartet
Black Gate Cultural Centre
The Music Of Cole Porter
Galway, Ireland
May 25, 2019

The quartet stood in a line: saxophonist/clarinetist, guitarist, double bassist, then drummer. Their music packed the Black Gate Cultural Centre's basement venue as candle flames danced shadows across its low walls. Matthew Berrill's clarinet had the melody—"Anything Goes" by Cole Porter, whose music they were celebrating for the night. He moved into the upper reaches of his instrument like a pilot taking off, experienced and cool. Aengus Hackett proved himself an ingenious accompanist as he weaved his licks through the complex guitar chords. When he moved into his solo his octave-licks were sharp, clear, like a featherweight's knuckles. Below him Dan Bodwell's bass put muscle behind his strikes and Barry Duffy's drumming pushed the music onwards. Head down, focused, subtle and strong.

Two songs later on "Love For Sale," the band moved from the safety of reproduction and delved into freer territory. Where Duffy kept a skeletal beat on the rims of his kit, leaving Bodwell to drive the music. He was a rhythmic player, more interested in movement than harmony. His basslines swung with the physicality of a dance or fight while Berrill and Hackett skated tenor sax and guitar licks atop their surface. They seemed to be darting at one another rather than weaving themselves about each other, like two snakes squaring up for a battle. It was tense, different music, that turned the familiarity of Porter's songbook into an unexplored sonic lexicon.

At their best this quartet was thrilling. Berrill in particular proved himself an inventive and original musician. He positioned his style somewhere between Charlie Parker's With Strings and Stan Getz. His solos flowed like With Strings's melodies, but there were snatches of phrasing that echoed Getz's use of concise, clear motifs. That were varied with the deftness of Hemingway's sentences and the spontaneity of Kerouac's prose.

However they sometimes fell apart. Hackett's solos did not have the same inspiration he put into his accompanying. When he was backing up Berrill he snaked from one chord to the next, tying them together with brilliant, mercurial licks. When he soloed his fingers followed well-worn tracks across the fretboard. There were flashes of fire. As on "I Love You," where he closed his solo with a chord run up the neck that shone like a seam of platinum. Before Berrill returned on the clarinet to fill the spaces that Bodwell put into his bass line.

Berrill turned to the band and said "straight in!" as he counted off "Night and Day." He stood upright with his tenor, a long stream of music flowing out of its bell. Then he did weave about the guitar's licks while Duffy kept the beat on the snare with his palms. Hackett repeated a lick, moving it up the fretboard and pulling me deeper into the music. Bodwell hopped around the bass's neck, keeping everything tied together. The quartet traded eights, a brilliant flash of tenor and guitar between the rounds of fiery drumming. Before they ended with chiming guitar chords and a long, low saxophone note.

The final number was "Just One of Those Things." And Berrill ended it with a run during his solo that invoked the rolling licks of rockabilly guitarists. He returned to his lyrical, phrasal playing, before the song and the night ended. And the packed room emptied out onto Galway's Eglinton Street and into the midnight rain of May.

Jazz repertory is a fine art. To make a songbook as overdone as Cole Porter's come alive requires a rare knowledge and creativity. Berrill, Hackett, Bodwell, and Duffy, managed it on the whole. They added a punch to Porter's show tunes that made up for the lack of a vocalist. Who would have provided the wry humour that is found in Porter's lyrics. Instead, there was a strength in their renditions, a physical strength provided by Bodwell and an inventiveness courtesy of Berrill, that ran electricity through the material. Making it jump like the 1920s.

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