Workin' II - Irish Jazz Showcase: Dublin, Ireland, May 26, 2013

Ian Patterson By

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Workin' II: Irish Jazz Showcase
Workman's Club
Dublin, Ireland
May 26, 2013

Where do you go to see Afro-Peruvian jazz, an 18-piece Sun Ra tribute band, neo-soul, vocal jazz, trios, quartets and electronic music with live horn processing, all on the same day? The Workman's Club in Dublin, Ireland, of course. Workin' II, a mini-festival organized by the Improvised Music Company, was—as the title suggests—the second installment of a concept designed to showcase the contemporary jazz and related music that is flourishing in Dublin these days. Apart from nine of Dublin's best, and as an unexpected bonus, somebody had actually booked the sun for the day and a good crowd turned up to sample over seven hours of truly diverse music. The success of the event was all the greater, considering that there were no fewer than four festivals going on in the Dub on the same sunny Sunday.

Workin' I had been held in early January, when hardy souls braved the cold and ventured out to see six bands—ReDiviDeR, whose Never Odd or EveN (Diatribe Records) was one of the most arresting jazz releases of 2011, the folk-jazz of Leafzang , the Hugh Buckley 4tet, Asteroids of Doom, Laura Hyland's Clang Sang and OKO guitarist Shane Latimer. The response from musicians and audience alike was overwhelmingly positive, prompting IMC head Gerry Godley to set up Workin II, and it's to be hoped, an ongoing series of such all-day mini-festivals.

The Workman's Club faces the river Liffey in the heaving Temple Bar district, whose labyrinth of pubs, eateries, clubs and dive bars—many of which serve up music—makes this area the center of Dublin nightlife. Workman's Club has been one of the premier live music/entertainment venues in the city for a decade and the old, wooden-floored building exudes cozy informality. Three stages in two rooms meant there was a very fast turnaround between gigs, each one lasting 45 minutes.

The first band of the afternoon was pianist Luke Dunford's quartet, The Chief Keegans. Dunford, heavily influenced by the rhythms of New Orleans, steered the band through a set that was also colored by saxophonist Owen O'Neil's rhythm and blues tones. Dunford displayed fine bluesy chops and, on slower passages, veered towards a sort of shuffling Thelonious Monk-type groove. Drummer Tommy Gray and bassist Kevin Higgins delivered fat grooves and snappy rhythms that drove the music on the opening couple of numbers, and delicate, quite lyrical accompaniment on a lovely trio number on which O'Neil sat out.

Piano and saxophone enjoyed plenty of solo time, though both would gravitate towards each other, fusing in up-tempo unison lines. In a fun set, fat funk jazz grooves and deep blues swing made for wonderful bedfellows. The standout song, and a highly danceable one at that, was "Iko Iko," a pop-inspired jazz-funk tune with a hint of calypso in its veins.

In the main concert room, barely the length of the bar away, singer Edel Meade and guitarist Julien Colarossi's duo performance was intimate and engaging. Meade possesses an undoubtedly beautiful voice, but equally impressive were her sophisticated interpretations and her natural stage presence. Joni Mitchell's 1974 song "Help Me" was the perfect vehicle for Meade's high register charm, with Colarossi providing sympathetic, intuitive support. Youth is not always the best ally of a singer, but Meade is blessed with a warmth of tone that the young, somewhat shrill Mitchell arguably lacked until later in her career. Guest musicians Cote Calmet on cajon and soprano saxophonist Chris Engel injected swing and considerable swagger on Michael Jackson's "The Way you make me Feel."

Meade artfully weaved lyrics into the seams of saxophonist Wayne Shorter's classic "Iris," and "Beyond the Coda" provided further evidence that not only does she write a decent tune, but that she's a confident improviser to boot. Another Meade original, the gently melancholy "Love Lost," had the mark of a jazz classic. Less successful was a fairly straight version of Paul McCartney's "When I'm 64" and equally unbending—and a little inexplicable in the context of a 45-minute set—was Meade's rendition in English of the Irish national anthem, "Amhrán na bhFiann" ("A Soldier's Song"). Meade's quietly delivered version of guitarist/singer Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing," with Colarossi adding lovely embellishment, rounded out the set.

A thumping tenor and alto saxophone intro, courtesy of Sam Comerford and Chris Engel, announced the arrival of neo-soul outfit Butter. When the dust had settled, singer Georgia Cusack eased into Erykah Badu's "Didn't Cha Know." Butter has been together for a just over a year, but already there's a lovely tight-but-loose dynamic in the seven-piece band's interplay. Neo-soul old and new inspires the band's repertoire, but the combination of a double-sax front line and versatile guitarist Stephen McHale considerably broadens the collective options. "Love Poems" was given an upbeat treatment, with drummer Dennis Cassidy and bassist Sean Maynard Smith bringing a more insistent groove to the mix than Bilal's original version. McHale's snaking guitar solo lent the tune a harder—though no less soulful—edge.

Cusack's silky vocals were best appreciated when there was less going on, as on the Burt Bacharach/Hal David hit, "The Look of Love," and Aaliyah's "One in a Million." On the latter, keyboardist Johnny Taylor's minimalism proved that less is more, and throughout the set his low-key brush strokes, like little splashes of color, were a fundamental part of the group sound. The centerpiece of the performance was Radiohead's "National Anthem," a soaring version with Cusack leading a pronounced psychedelic segment. The honking, squealing saxophone cacophony, as heady as bliss, remained faithful to the original in spirit.

On the largest stage in the main hall, Peruvian drummer Cote Calmet's quintet, Phisqa, won over a large crowd in a set drawn mainly from its impressive debut recording, Phisqa (Self Produced, 2013). What set Phisqa apart from most other contemporary jazz bands was Calmet's transposing of Afro-Peruvian rhythms to his kit, and his effusive, energetic playing was at the center of everything. "Muerdele El Diente" opened the set, with guitarist Julien Colarossi, and that man Chris Engel again, enjoying extended solos. Colarossi exhibited the flair and fluidity of ideas that made his debut recording as leader, Note to Self, (Self Produced, 2013), such a resounding success. Engel, for his part, combined lyricism with John Coltrane-esque fire, particularly on the rampaging "Nuna."
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