Coming just over a year after the album Quare Groove Vol. 1 pulled back the lid on a hidden world of Irish funk music of the 1970s and ’80s, comes another compilation album from the same stable that puts the spotlight on the early jazz fusion and folk scene.
Buntús Rince: Explorations in Irish Jazz, Fusion & Folk captures an accelerated decade of musical innovation in Irish jazz in the 1970s where exponents of relatively conventional genre idioms released recordings around the same time as more progressive and fusion-oriented acts in a spectacular dam burst of styles and creativity.
Ireland around the middle to late decades of the last century wasn’t naturally fertile ground for outside influences. Therefore, the defining legacy of Buntús Rince is that it serves as a tribute to the self-taught qualities of the musicians featured.
“I suppose when a scene really started to happen with Irish jazz musicians you’re probably looking at the late 1950s and early ’60’s,” reckons compiler Peter Curtin, who cites Noel Kelehan, best known as conductor of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra; guitarist Louis Stewart; and his regular accompanist and pianist Jim Doherty as the nurturers and originators of the Irish jazz scene.
“It was something they had to create themselves because Ireland was a country on the west of Europe which hadn’t experienced inward migration,” says Curtin.
In an era long before the internet and even pirate radio, one of the ways these musicians could hear contemporary was by purchasing it as sheet music and learning to play it themselves.
Curtin was fascinated to learn that Kelehan wore out an album by British pianist George Shearing, such was his compulsion to understand precisely what was being played. “He had to keep putting [the needle] back to the start to figure out the piano in it,” says Curtin.
The self-taught Louis Stewart came through the ranks of showband musicians before graduating to working with Shearing and Benny Goodman.
“These guys developed into world class musicians and started an Irish jazz scene that continues to this day,” says Curtin, who points out the influence they had on the next wave of Irish jazz musicians.
A keen record collector, Curtin’s interest in the project was sparked by a chance conversation with electronic music producer Mike Slott about a track called ‘Part of the World’ that he co-produced with Hudson Mohawke under the name Heralds of Change.
“There was a really nice infectious horn sample on it,” recalls Curtin, “and I remember asking Mike at the time where did that horn sample came from and he told me his dad actually wrote the track and it was recorded then with the Noel Kelehan Quintet.”
Slott’s father was Noel Kelehan Quintet trumpet and flugelhorn player Mike Nolan, and the sample came from their 1979 album Ozone. The scene in the ’70s may have been small but its influence was profound. Noel Kelehan Quintet drummer John Wadham, who has his own track on the compilation, was also a drum teacher, and one of his students was John McAteer of Supply Demand & Curve, whose membership connects with so much of the experimental work captured on Buntús Rince.
“The likes of Louis Stewart and Noel Kelehan were playing straight up jazz at that stage and were only just getting to release albums whereas Sonny Condell, Supply Demand & Curve, Rosemarie Taylor all released albums within a year of each other, which would come under the fusion prog genres,” says Curtin.
Buntús Rince: Explorations in Irish Jazz, Fusion & Folk is available via All City records in Dublin, and online through Bandcamp