WITH headliners like Imelda May, the Frank and Walters, and Sharon Jones, the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival may have been about rather more than jazz, but it did keep thousands of punters of all tastes happy over the course of a vibrant weekend.
That said, many jazz fans would welcome if the festival rebalanced a little more towards jazz artists, who, in its best years, have dominated the programme, even while always making room for the more soulful sounds exemplified by Sharon Jones, who brought the Opera House down on Sunday night.
Jazz central, as ever, was the Everyman, though this year’s line-up was not a very good reflection on the diversity of the music, an artistic richness that is unmatched in any other art form right now. Each of the three nights had the same double-bill format: a female singer and her ensemble, coupled with a male-led instrumental outfit.
The festival opened with Detroit singer Carla Cook and a group featuring Ed Cherry on guitar, and Bruce Barth on piano. It was a performance that remained in its box, the ensemble seeming constrained by the act of serving the singer. The very next night, the exact same ensemble of Ed Cherry, Bruce Barth and co played again, this time without Cook. Given that we’d heard them play several instrumental tunes the evening before, those who attended both gigs had a right to feel a little short-changed.
On the plus side, Michel Legrand was a worthy addition to the festival’s roll call. His trio of perfectionists, including Pierrer Boussaguet on bass and Francois Laizeau on drums, gave a performance as good as any trio has given in the Everyman.
A wonderful survey of a the French composer’s long and glorious career that took in his collaborations with Miles Davis and Ray Charles, songs like ‘Summer of 42’ (en francais, cet fois), and, finally, a playful revisiting of the main theme from Umbrellas of Cherbourg, the 1964 film he provided the music for. Had to be done, one supposes, but Legrand found a witty way to nod to audience expectations.
He fully deserved the festival’s Jazz Legend Award. That the Rising Star award went to Carla Cook, born 1962, is a fair indication of how the festival neglects to its cost Europe’s current golden age of young jazz musicianship.
The star of Saturday night was Dianne Reeves, arguably the best jazz singer on the circuit right now. Her enthusiasm is genuine, her presence larger than life, her improvisations confident, witty and knowing. She glows, but has none of the corny wholesomeness of some singers. She begins by letting us hear anew the very familiar, with songs like Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’, and ends with a beautiful version of McCoy Tyner’s ‘You Taught My Heart to Sing’ .
As an example of the rich European seam the festival should mine some more, Hakon Kornstad was perfect. A sole performer, Kornstad brings a remarkable palette of sound on stage. He combines saxophone and loop machine to rich effect, weaving in versions of Nordic folk songs and his own compositions. He then tells us how he fell in love with opera during a trip to the Met in New York, before singing a Gluck aria in his fine, rich tenor. A unique performer, he was awarded the Guinness Jazz in Europe Award.
Ginger Baker dedicated his set to the memory of “Wee Jack”, his former Cream bandmate Jack Bruce who passed away at the weekend.
The Triskel lived up to its billing as a quiet listening venue on Sunday afternoon via Francesco Turrisi’s excursion into the Italian baroque. His transpositions of pieces like Monteverdi’s Si Dolce e’l Tormento into jazz arrangements made for some beautiful and subtle explorations, showing jazz’s eternal capacity to look back and embrace what has come before.
Some works of the late classical period do the opposite: prefigure jazz in their easing away from strict melodies. Think late Debussy, for instance. The addition of the Vanbrugh Quarter to the Triskel’s billing might have embraced this fact a little more strongly, but, as a tonic to all that foot-tapping, they were a welcome palate cleanser.
First up was Ravel’s quartet in F major, a piece of utterly modern sensibility. Then came Peter Schickele’s American Dreams.
Schickele has written jazzier music for quartets, but, in the context of the festival, American Dreams is a fair survey of the musical landscape from which jazz eventually emerged.
Of the sizeable non-jazz strand of the festival, one of the highlights was a 25th anniversary gig by hometown heroes the Frank and Walters. The ’ barnstorming, all-inclusive fiesta even featured appearances from the Barrack Street Band and opera singer Mary Hegarty. It was also good to see such a venerable venue transform itself so easily host a raucous but well-marshalled mosh pit.