Bray Jazz Festival 2013
The Town Hall evening concert saw Brass Jaw give a memorable performance full of humor that combined intricate four-way harmonies and individual virtuosity. The quartet entered the hall playing and left the same way. For an hour and twenty minutes in between they played tunes that went from the short and punchy "Duck's Chickens" to a four-part suite, Ryan Quigley's "Imaginary Friend." There was rhythm 'n' blues in an exhilarating version of "Walk Tall," which saw the musicians bobbing backwards and forwards over a baritone riff and a ripping tenor saxophone solo. Quigley's muted trumpet raised the spirit of New Orleans on the soulful "Charles Franklin Blues" whereas the more contemporary "Talisman Home" referenced the influence of composer Phillip Glass.
The quartet slowed things down on the Rogers & Hammerstein tune "Little Girl Blue." Though the more up-tempo tunes were highly entertaining, the slower numbers afforded better opportunity to appreciate the intricacies of the quartet's shifting harmonic layers. This was true of "I Can Hear Your Smile," a modern classical composition of hymnal elegance. But Brass Jaw aims to entertain and the infectious funk-jazz of "Siddhartha" would have made a great alternative soundtrack to the 1970's cop show "Starsky and Hutch." A roaring version of The Beatles' "Drive My Car" and Bobby Hebb's much-covered "Sunny" concluded a marvelous set in upbeat manner. Brass Jaw's innovative and fun approach to traditional/popular music was refreshing. The versatility, sophistication and sheer energy in its performance was remarkable.
The evening concert at the Mermaid County Wicklow Arts Center was Brazilian singer/pianist Eliane Elias. With husband and bassist Marc Johnson and guitarist Steve Cardenas making up the vastly experienced trio, expectations were high for a memorable concert. Indeed, the organizers could have sold the concert out twice over, and a number of disappointed ticketless fans were turned away on the night. The concert began half an hour later than advertised but the reception given Elias, Johnson and Cardenas when they took to the stage signified that all was right with the world.
As one, the trio launched into Arthur Schwartz' composition and jazz standard "You and the Night and the Music." Elias, like most of her peers, has long been influenced by pianist Bill Evans recorded this number on Something for You: Eliane Elias Plays and Sings Bill Evans (Blue Note Records, 2008). And with Johnson, who was Evan's bassist for the final two years of his life, providing the fulcrum for the trio, the spirit of Evans was strongly present. Elias, however, is no clone and her take on this and the set's other standards bore her personal stamp, notably a Brazilian tinge on a swinging version of "There Will Never Be Another You" and a bluesy take on "I Thought about You."
Only a couple of Brazilian classics graced a set dominated by standards; a delightful version of Gilberto Gil/João Donato's "Bananeira" and Antonio Carlos Jobim's "So Danco Samba" being highlights. With a new album due in tribute to trumpeter/singer Chet Baker, Elias performed several tunes recorded by him. Introducing "This Can't Be Love," Elias spoke of falling in love with Baker's music at the age of 10, in particular his trio with pianist Red Garland and bassist Paul Chambers. Her renditions of tunes closely associated with Baker, "Everything Depends on You" and "Just Friends" were evidently heartfelt. "Everything Depends on You" was an intimate duo rendition between Elias and Cardenas.
One new composition, "Stairway to the Ninth Dimension" involved a little light-hearted interaction with the audience, but levity aside it contained some of the most adventurous soloing of the set from both Elias and Cardenas. Between numbers Johnson also treated the audience to a lyrical five-minute solo. In general, however, the trio's performance lent more towards song interpretation rather than repetitive displays of virtuosity, though everyone blew off plenty of steam on "Bowing to Bud," Elias' celebratory tribute to pianist Bud Powell. It ended a classy, highly enjoyable set on a high note, though the inevitable encore brought one more round from Elias, Johnson and Cardenasand a standing ovation from the audience.
The honor of closing BJF 2013 fell to one of Ireland's leading jazz figures, saxophonist Michael Buckley, who led his nine-piece Michael Buckley Band at the Martello Hotel, from midnight until well after 2 in the morning. Fronted by singer Margot Buckley, the band's lively set mixed soul, funk and more straight ahead fare from Buckley's current release, It is What it is (LYTE Records, 2013).
Essentially unpretentious, good-time music, there was warmth in the tight horn arrangements and in Margot Buckley's soulful delivery. The between-songs banter was entertaining, but as lighthearted as the gig was, there was still plenty of fire from Buckley and guitarist Mal O'Brien. A healthy crowd was still standing at the end to give Buckley and band a deserved and enthusiastic ovation.
The BJF 2013 did what it always does by serving up nothing but good music for three days. The jazz was about as varied as it's possible to get these days, covering a wide range of styles, electric and acoustic, modern and traditional, from Brazil to Scotland, from Sweden to France and from Norway and Switzerland to Ireland. Balkan and Cajun music, whilst not exactly jazz, did throw up plenty of exciting improvisation and certainly enlivened the festival no end. The success of the outdoor concerts on the Saturday, the educational workshop and New Jazz Showcase gigs on the Sunday, all point the way forward for the BJF.
Although George and Dorothy Jacob have had to trim the BJF program a little in recent years due to the ongoing recession, there has been no compromise in the quality of the music and in their vision to develop the festival and bring jazz to greater numbers of people. If, as George Jacob said, it's been a miracle to keep the festival going year after year, it's exciting to imagine what it could be like when the economic good times roll round again, as they surely must.
Page 2: Hopa! Page 3: Brass Jaw Workshop Ian Patterson
Page 3, Mats Eilertsen:Robert Goode
All Other Photos: Courtesy of Dublin Jazz Photography/Bray Jazz