At 78, Leonard Cohen is almost as rumpled as the shabby suits he wore while burnishing his reputation as the thinking person’s songwriter in the sixties and seventies. After several years of touring, he nowadays arrives on stage in rather nattier attire, but his performance retains the grizzled lustre of earlier decades.
Wearing a ragged smile as he walks from the wings, he seems full of joy to be here. There is a warmth to his delivery that belies his reputation as brooding overlord of bedsit angst.
Never the world’s most dazzling vocalist, old age has imprinted on Cohen’s oaken baritone the kind of gravitas only decades of intense living can imbue. His croon is born aloft by a series of remarkable arrangements by his eight-piece band, which reworks what were once bare-bone dirges into sad, sweeping epics.
The setlist pleases casual fans and die-hards alike. He starts with a towering ‘Dance Me To The End Of Love’, delivers a gorgeous ‘Bird on the Wire’ and a keening ‘Everybody Knows’, the material upholstered with splashes of Spanish guitar, Hammond organ, and lush backing from long-term collaborator Sharon Robinson.
With his 80th birthday not far away, it is uncertain how many chances there will be to see Cohen in the flesh again. If this is one of the last times, concert-goers can console themselves that they have seen a master at the height of his powers.
Star rating: 4/5
By Kieran Bohane
Festival fever ruled the roost since the June Sea Sessions kicked off at beautiful Bundoran in Donegal, and because of pressure of space on these pages, we’ve let news of a few really cracking jazz recordings fall below our radar.
One of those was Lauren Kinsella’s Thought Fox who released My Guess (Diatribe) in early June. Kinsella and the band made quite an impression at Triskel’s Christchurch on a beautifully sunny afternoon at last year’s Cork jazz festival and this record emphasises the lyricism and adventurousness of her band. (See them live, with acclaimed saxophonist Julian Siegel at Triskel on Sunday night).
The wonderful Julia Hulsmann Quartet’s In Full View (ECM Records), where the pianist deviated from her usual trio format to add the lyrical trumpet of Tom Arthurs, worked a treat and the chemistry of the ensemble interplay is memorable and well worth a spin.
Worthwhile too is the Nils Landgren Funk Unit’s Teamwork (Act Records), which is full of fun and funky summer frolics, although as the summer sun sinks below the horizon faster than a personal insolvency practitioner’s smile, the funk may prove a little tiresome.
However, one standout over the summer is Everything We Hold by the Kairos 4tet. We make no secret of the fact that ever since Kairos Moment on their own label Kairos Records (2009), we’ve been taking a keen interest. The success of that first outing saw the band sign with Edition Records and release Statement of Intent (Edition Records 2011) where the band developed its interest in the song and worked closely with a wonderful singer, Emilia Martensson.
This time Martensson’s sensual and crystal clear vocals are joined by Irishman Marc O’Reilly who brings his tortured/well-worn husky soul sound – think a cross between Tom Waits and Mick Flannery – to the party, as well as soul star Omar. This is easily saxophonist Adam Waldmann’s best record to date and helping him along is bass player extraordinaire Jasper Hoiby, whose playing, like a Heaney poem, “can catch the heart off guard and blow it open”.
The songs are all written by Waldmann and his pal Rupert Friend, better known for his roles as the Nazi Lt Kurt Kotler in the film The Boy In Striped Pyjamas or as the CIA assassin Peter Quinn in the hit TV series Homeland. Bursting with brilliant blistering solos as well as foot-tappingly fabulous songs, this is a very accomplished record.
Star rating: 4/5
Ben Reilly lectures in fine art at Waterford Institute of Technology, and is a former archaeologist. ‘Sin Corner’ features seven of his sculptures, fashioned from found objects cast in wax, a material associated with death masks and effigies. The pieces are black, which befits the ecclesiastical decor of Triskel, and hints at the artist’s dark humour.
Given Reilly’s background, it is hardly surprising that the pieces are inspired by history and mythology. ‘Balor’ features what looks like the trumpet of an old-fashioned gramophone; in its ‘mouth’ is a ball of bloodshot red. The title refers to the Tory Island-dwelling Balor of the Evil Eye, king of the Fomorians, who could kill with a glance.
A darker red colours the clown’s nose on the human head in ‘Man’. The head is grey; there is a lopsided gash for the mouth, and two holes where the eyes should be. It’s arguably the bleakest piece in the exhibition, though that honour might also go to ‘Soul’, a wall-mounted figure from whose shoulders spring rusty nails.
Reilly’s twisted humour is also at work in ‘Dog’, an improbably long-legged beast whose head is encased in a funnel. It’s an attachment dogs wear after operations, to prevent them tearing out stitches. It also prevents them from rummaging about or eating or drinking.
Is some pieces, Reilly’s intent is more serious. ‘Enfield’ features an exact model of the British service rifle that was a favourite weapon of the insurgents in the Irish War of Independence. In Reilly’s work, it lies idle on a plinth, perhaps suggesting it has earned its retirement from active service.
‘Sin Corner’ is a modest but provocative exhibition that makes thoughtful use of the venue’s awkward spaces.
Star rating: 4/5