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Tommy Halferty, Philippe Aerts, Kevin Brady At Scott's Jazz Club

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Halferty has absorbed the modernist language of John Abercrombie, Ralph Towner and John Scofield, and he sounds like a fiery combination of the three.
Tommy Halferty, Philippe Aerts, Kevin Brady
Scott's Jazz Club
Belfast, N. Ireland
December 1, 2023

The gentleman had arrived early to secure a table right in front of the stage, a fresh pint of Guinness settling nicely before him. He had seen guitarist Tommy Halferty before. The first time was in 1972, in Slattery's, a heritage pub on Capel Street, Dublin. The late great Louis Stewart was the main jazz draw at Slattery's in those days. Halferty used to hold the Monday night slot. He would later study with Stewart, and eventually with Stewart's passing, assume his mantle. Half a century dedicated to his craft. The gentleman stage-front knew the score. Half a century of listening.

This was a relatively swift return to Scott's Jazz Club for Halferty, having played here in April, with bassist Cormac O'Brien and keyboardist Greg Felton. For this gig, Halferty was joined by drummer Kevin Brady and Belgium bassist Philippe Aerts.

Halferty and Brady are old sparring partners, but this was the first time for either playing with Aerts. The seasoned bassist has serious pedigree, having played with Lee Konitz, Joe Henderson, Chet Baker, Gary Burton, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Philip Catherine, amongst others. The trio had just half an hour's rehearsal time the day before in Dublin, not that you would have known it.

A different guitarist to the elegant traditionalist that was Stewart, Halferty has absorbed the modernist language of John Abercrombie, Ralph Towner and John Scofield, and he sounds like a fiery combination of the three. It was with the Abercrombie's "Ralph's Piano Waltz"—a mid-tempo loosener—that the concert began. Brady's comping was perhaps a little too insistent during Aerts' solo, when softer hands might have served the music better. Others, no doubt, would beg to differ.

It did not take long for Halferty to hit his stride, soloing with panache over fast-walking bass and bustling drums on the standard "You Stepped Out of a Dream." There were echoes of Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins in Halferty's on-the-fly invention, his lines embellished with flashing musical quotations. A funked-up version of Jimmy Heath's "Gingerbread Boy" could have come straight out of John Scofield's songbook, with Halferty serving up some terrifically gnarly blues.

The trio once more dipped its toes into the standards book with "Angel Eyes" and then toggled between country-esque swing and post-bop groove on Larry Coryell's "Wrong is Right." Brady was Coryell's go-to drummer on the guitarist's frequent visits to these shores, playing on his final studio recording, Larry Coryell's Last Swing with Ireland (Angel Air, 2021). It was fitting that Brady got to strut his stuff here, working his kit with controlled vigor. A highlight of the evening came with a tender reading of Carla Bley's lyrical "Lawns"—a fitting homage to the recently departed modern jazz great.

Halferty delivered a searing solo on Denzil Best's "Wee," working intricate patterns the length of the neck at bebop velocity, and interjecting dazzling chordal progressions along the way. With the ante well and truly upped, Aerts and Brady responded in kind with meaty, sweat-inducing solos of their own. It was exhilarating stuff to behold.

Amid bop burners and standards, the trio served up a taste of Brazil on a rhythmically charged "Vera Cruz," Milton Nascimento's political critique of colonialization and the plight of Brazil's indigenous peoples. Halferty led throughout, but it was Brady's supercharged, samba—inflected rhythms that drove the music. There was a jazz-rock vibrancy to "Alley Oop," a composition written by keyboardist Jean-Phillipe Lavergne. Halferty has played with the Lavergne brothers, Jean-Phillipe, and drummer Christophe, since 1987, a collaboration that remains vital with the release of Spiorad Ama on the Empreinte label in March 2023.

In a concert of adroit shifts of mood and tempi, the ballad "You Don't Know What Love Is" highlighted the finesse of all three musicians in turn. Before the evening's final number, an extended bout of string tuning ensued, with one of Aerts' bass keys creaking like the protests of an old ship's hull, prompting someone in the audience to suggest a little WD40.

Once set, the trio launched into a blistering rendition of John Coltrane's "Impressions." Driven by Aerts and Brady's pulsating rhythms, Halferty fused tumbling lines and choppy chordal riffs in a magnificent display of guitar craft that lasted fully ten minutes. A brief return to the head preceded a raucous trio vamp that concluded song, and set, in emphatic style.

There is, it seems, always money floating about to preserve Ireland's heritage buildings, like Slattery's pub, Tommy Halferty's old stomping ground of half a century ago. Music is heritage too. Somebody should fund the recording of a steaming hot Tommy Halferty gig like this one, so that future generations will need no convincing that Ireland once had an improvising jazz musician on a par with Parker, Coltrane, Rollins et al.

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