Down With Jazz 2013
Day three of Down With Jazz began at 2pm with a weak sun casting its rays on UCD Gamelan. This is the third gamelan orchestra in Ireland but the first in Dublin. Given that the 12-piece orchestra has only been together since October 2012, the performance of traditional compositions from central Java alongside original pieces was all the more impressive. Xylophones, drums and gongs combined in hypnotic interlocking melodies, with the musicians rotating roles after each piece.
UCD Gamelan leader Peter Moran announced that a set of gamelan instruments has generously been donated to the National Concert Hall by the Sultan of Yogyakarta. The gamelan instruments will be arriving in January 2014 and will need musicians to play them. Experience, Moran was quick to point out, is not necessary: "It doesn't matter if you don't know what to do. No-one here does. We're all learning from scratch." It sounds like the perfect opportunity for anyone who would like to be a musician but has doubted their ability.
Fresh from the success of the Sligo Jazz Project 2013, bassist Eddie Lee and No Crows braved the GAA hurling traffic to grace Down With Jazz with a delightful brand of folk that mixed Irish, Balkan, South American and Mediterranean airs seamlessly.
The Penguin Cafe Orchestra's "Music for a Found Harmonium" was given an Eastern European twist by Russian violinist Oleg Ponomarev. He gave a virtuoso performance on the traditional tune from Siberia that followed and on Lee's swinging "Troy." Opening their strings to South American influences, mandolinist Anna Houston's pretty Venezuelan folk melody waltzed merrily along before a sudden injection of pace quickened the collective pulse.
Spanish guitarist Felip Carbonell sang in Mallorcan on a lovely slower tune accompanied by Houston on cello and Ray Coen on guitar. "Magpie," the title track of No Crows critically acclaimed second CD was a beautifully lilting slice of Irish folk while Ponomarev's vibrant Russian wedding dance "The Crow Hora" and an equally energetic Greek fling brought down the curtain on a wonderful set.
The most straight-ahead jazz gig of Down With Jazz was by trombonist Paul Dunlea's group. The Cork-based musician showcased tunes from his debut CD, bi-polAr (Self Produced, 2012), which featured some of Ireland's top jazz musicians including saxophonists Nick Roth and Michael Buckley. The septet has been playing these compositions for well over a year and the resulting tightness in the playing produced a vibrant dynamic that was a little lacking in the studio effort.
The lyrical "The Honeymoon is Over" opened the set with Dunlea, saxophonist Karl Rooney and trumpeter Danny Healey blending nicely over Owen Walsh's walking bass. Melody and harmonic layers were central to the group sound, though on "Bi-polAr" bassist Owen Walsh and drummer Davie Ryan's funk groove paved the way for some sparks from guitarist Joe O'Callagahan. "Twists and Turns" plotted similarly funky territory, with Dunlea executing a fine solo.
The closing number stemmed from extended saxophone/trumpet/trombone harmonies of some charm before ceding the ground to Rooney, who stretched out on another notable improvisation. Dunlea's deft arrangements and colorful layering of sounds in this septet probably owes much to his big band experience. It may well be, however, that he makes his name leading smaller ensembles, for within the seeds of this performance lie the promise of greater things to come.
Dublin Guitar Night served up four notable guitarists, each of whom displayed quite different styles. John Walsh gave a remarkable flamenco performance that demonstrated not only his phenomenal technique but his evident feel for the idiom. Darragh O'Neil's highly melodic, contemporary style blended classical tradition with folkloric flavors. "Rory," his tribute to legendary Irish guitarist Rory Gallagher evoked the country blues of Leadbelly's "Out on the Western Plain"a staple of Gallagher concerts.