Cool new mu­sic, top-class fes­ti­vals and lost record dis­cov­ery make for a very up­beat year in jazz

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - YEAR IN REVIEW | MUSIC - COR­MAC LARKIN

Any­one who thought that jazz still in­volved men in suits play­ing swing mu­sic was put right (again) this year as the im­pro­vised mu­sic en­ve­lope con­tin­ued to ex­pand in every avail­able di­rec­tion, both at home and in­ter­na­tion­ally. The dis­cov­ery of a lost record­ing by one of the undis­puted giants of the mu­sic, the con­tin­ued rise of Ire­land’s re­gional jazz fes­ti­vals, a string of high-qual­ity new re­leases from both ends of the is­land, a dis­cus­sion (fi­nally) about gen­der balance, and a re­nais­sance at the Cork Jazz Fes­ti­val were just some of the high­lights of a busy year in Ir­ish jazz. The year be­gan with a Mu­sic Net­work tour by UK sax­o­phon­ist Tr­ish Clowes and her band, bring­ing a strik­ing new voice to parts of the coun­try that rarely hear jazz. London-based Ir­ish vo­cal­ist and com­poser Lau­ren Kin­sella was also due to tour her su­perb Snow­poet project in March when, po­et­i­cally, the snow in­ter­vened. How­ever, Kin­sella and her band of London heavy­weights were noth­ing if not per­sis­tent and the au­di­ences that turned out for the resched­uled dates a week later got a taste of where vo­cal jazz is headed in the 21st cen­tury. Also home in March and tour­ing the coun­try was cre­ative Brussels-based sax­o­phon­ist Sam Comer­ford with his genre-de­fi­ant Thun­derblender project, and in June, multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist Seán Car­pio led his in­ter­na­tional Stella Maris group, de­ploy­ing var­i­ous out of the way sa­cred spa­ces as char­ac­ters in a most imag­i­na­tive im­pro­visatory project. Though the cap­i­tal hasn’t hosted a jazz fes­ti­val for over a decade, Ire­land is im­prob­a­bly blessed with a number of high-qual­ity re­gional fes­ti­vals that com­bine artis­tic cred­i­bil­ity with the tenac­ity and sheer bloody-mind­ed­ness needed to keep the show on the road, year after year. Bray Jazz Fes­ti­val cel­e­brated a re­mark­able 19th year with a strong con­tem­po­rary pro­gramme that in­cluded New York heavy­weights Dave Dou­glas and Joe Lo­vano, and ris­ing Brook­lyn sax­o­phone star In­grid Laubrock. Gal­way’s fes­ti­val, un­der the stew­ard­ship of new di­rec­tor Ellen Cran­itch, was a model of in­clu­siv­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity, with artists like Ger­man pi­anist Ju­lia Hüls­mann’s trio and UK pi­anist and vo­cal­ist Liane Car­rol play­ing a largely free fes­ti­val with no un­nec­es­sary mer­chan­dise, no plas­tic bot­tles and no hang-ups about what jazz is. Lim­er­ick Jazz Fes­ti­val hosted star UK sax­o­phon­ist Ju­lian Siegel and Belfast trum­peter Lin­ley Hamil­ton, Kilkenny Arts Fes­ti­val in­tro­duced a new jazz strand (pro­grammed by your cor­re­spon­dent) which fea­tured gui­tarist Chris Guil­foyle and New York vo­cal­ist Theo Bleck­mann, while the Sligo Jazz Project once again staged one of Europe’s big­gest and friendli­est jazz sum­mer schools with a fes­ti­val added in the evenings just be­cause, well, ev­ery­one was there al­ready.

Gen­der gap

The yawn­ing gen­der gap in Ir­ish jazz was the sub­ject of much dis­cus­sion in 2018, and the news that Ire­land’s flag­ship jazz event, the Cork fes­ti­val, was to have a new woman di­rec­tor was greeted with ap­proval and op­ti­mism by Ir­ish jazz mu­si­cians of all gen­ders and none. Sinéad Dun­phy duly de­liv­ered an ex­cel­lent re­vamped fes­ti­val at the end of Oc­to­ber, head­lined by one of the lead­ing women of in­ter­na­tional jazz, US com­poser and or­ches­tra leader Maria Sch­nei­der. And with plenty of space too for lo­cal mu­si­cians, Dun­phy be­came every Ir­ish jazz en­thu­si­ast’s new best friend. Among a raft of new re­leases from Ir­ish jazz artists, the stand­outs were: Mak­ing Other Ar­range­ments, an am­bi­tious big band project from Belfast trum­peter Lin­ley Hamil­ton; Mi­gra­tions, a solo med­i­ta­tion on place and dis­place­ment from Dublin-based Ital­ian pi­anist Francesco Tur­risi; Turn­ing Skies, a sub­tle and self-as­sured new al­bum from vo­cal­ist Cor­mac Ken­evey; Swingin’ at the Haven, an al­bum of crisp stan­dards from Belfast drum­mer Dar­ren Becket with UK pi­anist Oli Howe and top Dublin bassist Dave Red­mond; and West, a suite of orig­i­nal com­po­si­tions from gui­tarist Chris Guil­foyle and his pow­er­ful Um­bra band. The Na­tional Con­cert Hall scored a coup in March when feted US pi­anist Brad Mehldau re­leased After Bach, a new work jointly com­mis­sioned by NCH and Carnegie Hall, to jus­ti­fi­ably en­thu­si­as­tic re­views. But un­doubt­edly the year’s big record­ing story was the dis­cov­ery in New York of a lost al­bum by John Coltrane. Recorded in 1963 and tucked away in a pri­vate house ever since, Both Di­rec­tions at Once was greeted with dis­be­lief by the in­ter­na­tional jazz com­mu­nity and The Ir­ish Times was among a very se­lect group of in­dus­try in­sid­ers in­vited to hear the lost al­bum in the New Jersey stu­dio where it was recorded. It did not dis­ap­point – ei­ther the ec­static jazz crit­ics (ahem) or the record com­pany, who achieved their own kind of ecstasy when the record made a brief ap­pear­ance in the main­stream pop charts. In a year when the jazz meta-genre con­tin­ued to ex­pand in every di­rec­tion, it showed that there is still room for a few men in suits.

From top: Ir­ish vo­cal­ist Lau­ren Kin­sella and Bri­tish multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist Chris Hyson of Snow­poet; Gal­way Jazz Fes­ti­val di­rec­tor Ellen Cran­itch; US pi­anist Brad Mehldau

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