Cork Jazz 2016: When the festival got its mojo back

From a music fan’s perspective, this was the best Guinness Cork Jazz Festival in years, writes Alan O’Riordan
Cork Jazz 2016: When the festival got its mojo back

WAS 2016 the year the Cork Jazz Festival got its mojo back? It certainly felt that way, with a strong lineup of acts across several venues, symbolised by the welcome return of afternoon jazz at the Everyman.

And with the likes of Paul Dunlea, Laoise O’Hanlon, Dan Walsh, Karen Underwood and many more flying the flag for local talent, the pubs were heaving to good music.

Justin Kauflin and Jacob Collier (Everyman)

Pianist Kauflin, who has been blind since he was a child, has a naive charm and almost bashful way about him that belies his age — this once wunderkind is 30 now — and also his mastery and confidence.

He gives Oscar Peterson’s ‘On Danish Shore’ a bluesy shakeout before the melody of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ slowly emerges from a colourful sketch. Among Kauflin’s own works, the best is ‘Thank You Lord’. It’s a hefty slice of Americana — at once stately and homely.

Jacob Collier is another prodigy, and still, at 21, in that naive phase of his career where he’s exploring the extent of his talent.

The setup on stage is for about eight to 10 musicians. But only one emerges: Collier, looking like a boyband member in clown pants. Collier begins with a distorted vocal loop, then hops over to the drums to set down a beat. He’s soon at the percussion, then the electric bass, and so on: racing around the stage sampling, looping and singing.

On a screen behind, this creates his own band of holograms — a sextet of automatons who play on after he leaves each instrument. It’s a neat effect and one underscored by some complex harmonies.

No doubt a mature Collier will begin to explore his talent more intensively in years to come, but you had to salute, bemused wonder, the expert, playful geekiness of it all

Robert Glasper Experiment (Everyman)

The most anticipated gig of the weekend kicked off with some strong, percussive keyboard playing from Robert Glasper on ‘No One lIke You’. It’s a side of him that jazz fans in the crowd probably didn’t see enough of during what followed. But then, ArtScience, the current album, largely adheres to soul, RnB and experimentalist side of Glasper’s wide-ranging talent.

‘Thinking About You’ brings out the playful side of Glasper, which will be evident throughout. And also his inner MC as he sings and does some call and response with the crowd. Next up, ‘Find You’, gets a long drum intro and becomes a spacious, guitar-focused rendition. ‘You and Me’ puts the smooth vocals of Casey Benjamin to full effect.

Lyrically, however, it’s all too similar to what’s come before. The song, too, is the first of a few longueurs in the set, via a repetitive beat that sticks around too long. There are also moments when the tempo falls a little too much between numbers.

But it gets better. ‘Day to Day’ is soaring. A Steve Wonder-worthy workout of vocoder vocals and saxophone from Casey Benjamin, who threatens to steal the show throughout. A version of the Isley Brothers ‘Summer Breeze’ is inspired, infectious and impossible not to love. The encore of ‘All Matter’ is the show’s highlight. Set off with some more of that percussive, improvised playing from Glasper. It’s midnight when this quintet finally departs.

Jason Marsalis Quartet Dick Oatts All Stars (Everyman)

The tightest group of the weekend was led by Jason Marsalis, whose vibes are played with a remarkable control and purity of sound. Marsalis himself is by turns a genial, sardonic and dryly funny band leader. His set amounts to a celebration of America’s great music, taking in standards delivery in a Jazz Age style, brilliantly intricate interplay and playful new works and interpretations. Marsalis is ably supported by Dick Oatts in a raucous, uplifting set of the saxophonist’s own compositions.

Beata Hlavenkova and Lila Ammons (Triskel)

A strong lineup at the Triskel featured Sheryl Bailey on Saturday and, in an inspired piece of programming, the Czech pianist Beata Hlavenkova on Sunday night.

Hlavenkova played Theodoros, her suite for piano. It’s in 12 parts, each representing a month of the year.

The music is, fittingly, by turns busy and melancholy, stormy and sunny. The piece displays the full precision and feeling of her technique. Afterwards, the audience was in the sure hands of Lila Ammons, who, with the Bruce Barth trio, gave a set of standards including ‘Mood Indigo’, ‘Round Midnight’, and ‘All or Nothing at All’.

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