Soak up the seaside vibes
Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside, oh, we don’t mind at all being beside the sea (even in early May), oh we do love a bit of an auld promenade, and if there’s a brass band playing diddley-om-pom-pom, well, all the better.
Bray Jazz Festival has been fighting the good jazz fight for the better part of two decades now, resisting the chamber-of-commerce model (heavy on the straw boaters, light on the modern jazz) in favour of consistently high-quality, artistically credible line-ups. Over the years, Bray has presented some major international figures (Andrew Hill, Steve Coleman and Tomasz Stanko) as well as catching up-and-coming names (Marius Neset, Ambrose Akinmusire and Kurt Rosenwinkel) and supporting local creative music (Fuzzy Logic, Oko, This Is How We Fly). Influential New York trumpeter Dave Douglas liked the Bray vibe so much, he even recorded an album there in 2007 – a major coup for the festival, and a real compliment to the receptive Bray audience.
This year’s festival keeps up the good work with a line-up that ticks all of the relevant boxes: international superstar – check (Lionel Loueke); 21st-century gender balance – check (Maarja Nuut, Malin Wättring, Shantala Subramanyam); high-quality local representation – check (Roamer); cult Australian piano trio - check (The Necks).
The conducive listening environment of the Mermaid Arts Centre hosts the festival headliners. West-African guitar genius Lionel Loueke counts Herbie Hancock and Barack Obama among his admirers, and he’s bound to add to them on Friday evening. On Saturday night, anarchic Manchester big band Beats & Pieces make their first Irish appearance since their raise-the-roof performance at the 12 Points festival in 2013. And on Sunday evening, rising Swedish saxophonist Malin Wättring brings her folky, bittersweet sound to the Mermaid.
Elsewhere on the bill, worth checking out on Friday will be outrageous Norwegian accordionist Stian Carstensen and Stravinsky-inspired Danish trio The Firebirds. On Saturday, beat a path to Carnatic flautist Shantala Subramanyam, Irish jazz supergroup Roamer, and Palestinian vocalist Ruba Shamshoum. Then on Sunday, with a little fancy footwork, it might just be possible to fit in Estonian techno-violinist Maarja Nuut, and three contrasting piano trios: Dublin’s CEO Experiment with Venezuelan wunderkind Leopolod Osio; a new trio with adventurous Dublin pianist Greg Felton, Australian-Irish bassist Damian Evans and Catalan drummer Gonzalo Del Val; and last but not first, Australian trio the Necks.
Clockwise from above: Maarja Nuut, Malin Wättring, Lionel Loueke and Stian Carstensen