The swing of things

From Gregory Porter to Phronesis, and Rudresh Mahantappa to Synergy —Kieran Bohane previews the programme for this weekend’s Cork Jazz Festival

The swing of things

AS soon as the summer sun dips in the west — a little earlier with each passing day — thoughts turn towards Christmas and the promise of a new year, when, with a bit of luck, the recessionary tide will turn as we look forward to spring and a long hot summer.

And to help us count down the clock, we punctuate our year with some big events to help banish the blues. For many, the final fling of the year is the annual bash down by the Lee.

The Guinness Cork Jazz festival provides a welcome opportunity to enjoy wide and varied musical offerings of local and international artists. Long gone are the days when jazz music almost exclusively ruled the roost: these times, the marketing men and women make sure there’s enough music on tap to tempt even the most world weary; to savour the delights from roots to jazz, and rock to folk. Such is life. And with the same regularity as the darkening days, the naysayers will come out in their droves to bemoan the fact that ‘de jazz’ is gone to the dogs.

For many Corkonians with deeper pockets, the festival offers an opportunity to head for the hills, which is a pity, for there are a number of high-quality acts performing — in many cases free of charge — throughout what is now an established and integral component of the festival. Take for example the Crane Lane, on Phoenix St, where UK outfit Get The Blessing will strut their stuff on Sunday evening at 7.30pm. At the same venue earlier that afternoon, listeners will get a chance to hear jazz funk outfit the James Taylor Quartet. Or if you want some really good sounds from a few guys who really know what they are doing, you could do a lot worse than pay a visit to the Garda Big Band at 3pm on Saturday afternoon in the Gresham Metropole on MacCurtain St — guaranteed to liven up your day.

If jazz isn’t your thing but you could be tempted by the raw energy of a decent blues band, The Long Valley on Winthrop St will surely deliver much craic as British blues outfit the Lee Hedley Blues Band take up their regular residence for the weekend. But get there early — it’s always packed.

Because the various offerings are confined to only three or four days, the ability to be in two places at once would be of great benefit. From an organiser’s point of view, this can’t be helped, but for jazz fans who made the decision to opt for Gregory Porter at the Everyman it has consequences — also on Saturday, (at the Triskel Christchurch), are Phronesis. Led by bassist Jasper Hoiby, the trio, which includes Ivo Neame on piano and Anton Egar on drums, are one of the finest groups to emerge in the last five years. Their appearance at this year’s festival was flagged a number of months ago and now that the Gregory Porter and Roy Hargrove double bill at the Everyman is sold out it would be wise to secure your tickets for Triskel as soon as possible, for these musicians are a joy.

Earlier this year Phronesis released what must be one of the best albums of the year — Walking Dark (Edition Records). Last year they received an outstanding reception on their first tour of North America, including the Rochester, Montreal and Ottawa International Jazz Festivals, andat the famous Jazz Standard club in New York. In August, 2011, they premiered their ‘Pitch Black’ project at the Brecon Jazz Festival – a performance in total darkness, which was described in a five-star review by the Telegraph as a “unique, unmissable triumph”. Their music, although complex, is foot-tappingly accessible, and has an optimistic and joyous vibe brimming with a bubbly energy, where time is forever changing and single brush strokes expand all of a sudden to swift and sweeping statements. The mix of sweet and sour left this listener craving for more.

It is no surprise the double billing of US singer Gregory Porter and trumpeter Roy Hargrove is a sell-out. Porter’s star is on the rise and in just two years he’s become a major player on the jazz scene. His debut album, Water (Motema), was nominated for a Grammy in 2010, and this year’s release of Be Good looks set to propel Porter towards more accolades and awards.

Speaking of Grammys, the double Grammy winner Roy Hargrove makes a welcome return to the banks of the Lee, and his performance sharing the bill with Porter should prove to be one of the highlights of this year’s jazz festival.

Sunday night at the Everyman may prove to be a mixed bag. It features the double bill of Chris Dave and Drumheadz, as well as the Miles Smiles All Stars. Dave has built up quite a reputation as a drummer who has arms (fingers and feet) in numerous camps. Perhaps better known more for his association with the hip-hop scene – in particular playing with the Robert Glasper Experiment – he has worked with a who’s who of the music world including Adele, Beyonce, Wynton Marsalis, Terrence Blanchard, Erykah Badu, Lupe Fiasco and the wonderful Geri Allen, to name a few.

Sharing the bill at the Everyman on Sunday are US trumpeter Wallace Roney, Rick Margitza (sax), Larry Coryell (guitar), Joey DeFransesco (organ), Daryl Jones (bass) and Omar Hakim on drums. It’s a stellar line-up that celebrates Miles Davis while re-imagining his music and will tap into the controversial genius’ funkier and bluesier periods. Expect some top-class music magnificently played but, with all the hallmarks of a put-together band playing the festival circuit, it may (or may not) turn out to be a let-down. You pays your money and takes your chances.

This year’s set of concerts at Triskel Christchurch and the Auditorium on Tobin Street will have dedicated jazz fans champing at the bit. Indeed, the line-up is interesting and varied and a clever move by festival programme director Jack McGouran and Triskel’s Tony Sheehan and his team, providing a more cutting edge approach to contemporary jazz music. Saturday afternoon at Christchurch has Dublin-born UK-based singer Christine Tobin performing Sailing to Byzantium, which fuses the poetry of WB Yeats and jazz music. Sharing the bill is Thought-Fox showcasing some of the best indigenous jazz talent on offer.

Later on that evening, as well as Phronesis, are Irish bassist Michael Coady’s Synergy featuring US alto player Dave Binney. One expects the band will draw from their fine album Nine Tales of the Pendulum (which goes on general release this month). Along with Binney and Coady (who also plays with Though-Fox on the earlier programme) will be stalwarts of the Irish scene Seán Carpio (drums), Michael Buckley (tenor sax) and the wonderful English pianist from Phronesis, Ivo Neame completing the line-up.

As well as the highly-acclaimed saxophonist Rudresh Mahantappa (Triskel Christchurch, Sunday night) whose Samdhi project (Act Music) explores the fusion of electronica, Indian music and jazz, Triskel at its Tobin Street auditorium hosts a series of concerts (starting 8.30pm) on Friday with MeTal-O-PHoNe, a Paris-based group who, as part of a 12 Points Plus project, will deliver cutting-edge music with a definite abstract flavour — perhaps not for the faint-hearted.

Saturday evening features pianist Jason Rebello, bassist Jeremy Brown, drummer Stephen Keogh and American saxophonist Jean Toussaint – probably a little more conventional. Sunday sees a young Norwegian trio (again in association with the 12 Points Plus project) mixing electronics with tuba, keys and voice.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday night at Triskel, under the banner ‘The Box Set’, is a series of three late-night concerts (starting 11pm) showcasing Irish contemporary music. Don’t expect the conventional (which brings to mind the Zappa quote “jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny”). Again you pays your money.

All in all there’s plenty on offer to suit most tastes from the conventional to the avant-garde, and a quick glance at the brochure will point punters in the right direction, from the various events and performances on the Fringe to free afternoon concerts at the Festival Club in the Gresham Metropole. Worth checking out also is a series of music workshops at the Cork School of Music on Union Quay (admission free but check beforehand for availability). * Further information: www.guinnsessjazzfestival.com

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