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Zoe Rahman, directing the Guildhall Jazz Ensemble, gets the Guildhall jazz festival off to a flying start tonight. The London conservatoire’s annual festival also features Ian Shaw, guesting with the Guildhall Jazz Singers and Ensemble; saxophonist Tom Challenger; Keith Tippett, Julie Tippetts and Paul Dunmall better known as the Dartington Improvising Trio. Iain Ballamy and the Guildhall Jazz Band are also appearing during this year’s running. Zoe Rahman, above
http://www.gsmd.ac.uk

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Meilana Gillard’s Fine Print opened the Brilliant Corners jazz festival at the Belfast Barge on Thursday

Brilliant Corners began in Belfast the night before the snow arrived yesterday. While the festival was named in honour of Monk’s Brilliant Corners album there were no obvious tie-ins on the opening night to the great composer and pianist’s music; the festival was too cool to offer a literal interpretation although the spirit was clearly felt. So instead the bands booked did the interpreting by way of original new music.

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Below deck: rising star saxophonist Meilana Gillard’s accomplished set

Brilliant Corners utilised three venues: the Belfast Barge, the MAC in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter; and the nearby Black Box; and new talent on display included Meilana Gillard’s Fine Print, a US tenor saxophonist now resident in Northern Ireland joined by double bassist Marcos Varela, who appears on Gillard’s Greg Osby-produced album Day One. Varela’s debut with Billy Hart and George Cables will be released later this year, with Spike Lee’s brother Arnold Lee and Sonny Rollins trombonist Clifton Anderson guesting. Varela pushed the band hard and tastefully with Gillard, whose individual non-retro sound on the tenor saxophone, probing and darting with a salty edge especially in her reading of Herman Hupfeld’s ‘As Time Goes By’. Leading Irish jazz musician David Lyttle was on drums and excelled. Meilana’s composition ‘Rear View’ was the big highlight of the first set by a highly proficient unit.

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Ellington in Anticipation band played the Factory in the MAC

At the MAC in the Factory on the sixth floor of the very smart post-brutalist arts temple opened in 2012, its volcanic stone facade tastefully undemonstrative, Mark Lockheart’s Ellington in Anticipation band were already burning by the time I got over from the Barge. It’s Ellington for the Polar Bear generation and in many ways codifies the mysterious non-linear compositional method Lockheart has cultivated in his own music a step on from his acclaimed Edition records set, In Deep.

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The Black Box opens for Brilliant Corners

Ellington’s music is like a dream behind the new music, not old music in new clothes at all. Seb Rochford and The Invisible’s Tom Herbert had that kind of ESP that people who are comfortable with each other on a bandstand possess, and chopped it up throughout, especially on ‘My Caravan’ while ‘Azure’ was a revelation. Lockheart blew wildly on ‘Jungle Lady’, clearly at ease, and both Finn Peters and James Allsopp knew how to stoke the flames especially as the music went further out.

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Playing the Sun Ra blues on Hill Street: Decoy debut 

And taking the music even further out free improv rounded off the evening at the Black Box, with Decoy, the tremendous organ trio of Alexander Hawkins, bassist John Edwards, and drummer Steve Noble marking Hawkins’ first Northern Ireland appearance. Sun Ra and kinetic bar-vaulting improv never sounded so good: a suitably Saturnine way to draw the first night of this exciting new festival to a close.
Story and photos: Stephen Graham