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Tommy Halferty Trio With Seamus Blake at JJ Smyth's

Ian Patterson By

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Tommy Halferty Trio With Seamus Blake
JJ Smyth's
Dublin, Ireland
February 13, 2016

The great thing about jazz clubs the size of your living room is that nearly every night is a full house. Within minutes of JJ Smyth's opening its doors it was standing room only for Tommy Halferty's Trio featuring Canadian tenor player Seamus Blake. The Saturday night crowd of regular patrons and fun-seeking tourists responded to an animated set with enthusiasm and respect in equal measure. Any chat was largely under the radar and the bar—serving grog on the same spot since the 1730s—was only in full swing at either end of the gig and during intermission.

It was a set dominated by jazz standards, with a couple of Blake's compositions thrown in, which, given that the saxophonist had flown in for a four-date, whirlwind tour of Ireland was perhaps to be expected. Blake tore out of the blocks on John Coltrane's "Lazy Bird," with Halferty's samba-tinged comping underpinning a sinewy tenor improvisation full of tuneful swagger. The saxophonist upped the ante on the standard "I'll Remember You"—a bop-fuelled workout built on Redmond's fast-walking bass modulations—inspiring a rousing response from Halferty.

The slower blues-inflected "The Call"—the title track of Blake's 1994 debut—and the Jimmy Van Heusen/Eddie DeLange standard "Darn That Dream" brought a timely change of tempo and mood, with Halferty and Blake both casting mesmeric spells as the quartet's brakes were gradually applied. A tasteful Redmond solo briefly captivated before a dancing, unaccompanied tenor coda that brought whoops and cheers from the crowd. Another dose of energetic bebop rounded out the first set, with Redmond's constantly evolving walking bass lines and Brady's bustle propelling Blake to impassioned heights.

The second set kicked off with the thrilling "Airflight," a Halferty original from his impressive trio recording Burkina (Self-Produced, 2015). Brady and Redmond's head-bobbing groove buoyed Halferty's biting, jazz-funk and Blake's expansive, R&B-flavored response. After such fire, Redmond and Brady took short solo spots that carried the quartet back to the head.

The quartet once again visited a 1930s Broadway musical tune, this time in the form of a swinging "Alone Together"; through the years this Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz tune has provided grist to the mill of saxophonists as diverse as Pepper Adams, Steve Lacy, Stanley Turrentine and Eric Dolphy, but Blake's dog-with-a-bone tenacity on a lengthy melodic exploration conjured the spirit of Sonny Rollins at his adventurous best. Halferty, in turn, rose to the occasion, with a fluid, bluesy solo of sparkling Grant Green/Barney Kessel vintage. Denzil De Costa Best's "Wee" provided further bebop fuel for the quartet's hard-working engine, with all four musicians stretching out. Whereas a classic jazz ballad might have provided the perfect closing antidote to such ballsy industry, the quartet instead embraced Nirvana's "In Bloom" with tremendous gusto, to the obvious delight of the crowd.

A few more Halferty originals wouldn't have gone amiss, or maybe a tune or two from Redmond's excellent Roots (New Sound Fresh Talent, 2013) but as Elvis Costello notes in his autobiography, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink (Penguin/Viking, 2015) ..."it is the fan's right to wish for the impossible and the artist's responsibility to play what the hell they want." When the playing is this good, this passionate, then the material, perhaps, is immaterial.
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