Thrilling concerts by women performers: This week’s jazz highlights

Carmel McCreagh and Flo McSweeney, Carole Nelson and Honor Heffernan

Saturday 15th

Two Divas and a Piano
Whale Theatre, Greystones,
Despite the name, there is little that is diva-ish about the authentic, down-to-earth vocal performances that Carmel McCreagh and Flo McSweeney deliver, and "a piano" only hints at the levels of empathy and craft that an eminence like Fiachra Trench brings to this popular trio. The repertoire runs from burnished chestnuts by Berlin, Gershwin, Ellington et al to gritty jewels by Joni Mitchell and Tom Waits, but each song is convincingly inhabited by McCreagh and McSweeney, either individually or together, and in Trench, who has worked with some of the biggest names in popular music, including Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello, they have the sort of support that vocalists need when they're putting it all on the line.

Sunday 16th

Honor Heffernan Quartet
Lost Lane, Dublin,
The monthly Sunday Jazz Sessions at Lost Lane, programmed by promoter Dominic Reilly, continue with a rare appearance in a jazz setting from vocalist Honor Heffernan. Though she could lay some claim to be the pre-eminent Irish jazz vocalist, with a string of fine jazz albums under her belt, in recent years Heffernan's muse has led her in a more theatrical direction, in particular her Whistling Girl show with composer Trevor Knight, an arch celebration of the wit of Dorothy Parker, was acclaimed internationally. But here is a chance to catch the riveting Heffernan with a top-flight jazz rhythm section, featuring the vastly experienced pianist Phil Ware, with bassist Damian Evans and drummer Dominic Mullan.

Dublin Jazz Co-Op: Voices
Workman's Club, Dublin,
As Ireland's elder statesman of the jazz guitar, Tommy Halferty has nothing left to prove, but the Derry-born guitarist is getting busier and sounding better than ever. His new Voices quartet is drawn from his colleagues in the Jazz Department at Dublin City University, who bring the required heft to tackle new compositions from the leader as well as music by influential Brazilian master Hermeto Pascoal, and by long-time Halferty favourites James Taylor and Paul Simon. Japanese-born pianist Izumi Kimura and bassist Derek Whyte have been working in an exploratory trio with Halferty for some years now, but sophisticated vocalist Jenna Harris will add another interesting layer.

Wednesday 19th

Jermyn Guilfoyle Jacobson


MVP, Dublin,
Three illustrious names to conjure with when it comes to Irish creative music. Dublin-born guitarist Simon Jermyn has been lighting up the Brooklyn scene since he relocated there over a decade ago, leading his own explorative Trot a Mouse group and playing with some of New York's heaviest hitters, notably cutting edge drummer Jim Black. Home for a short visit, the guitarist renews his partnership with internationally renowned bassist Ronan Guilfoyle and inventive RedivideR drummer Matthew Jacobson. The three first performed together at MVP last August and, such was the reaction, they're heading into Dave McCune's studio the day after this one-off performance. Expect high levels of creativity, musicianship and not a little mischief in what amounts to a sneak preview of this powerful trio's first album. Anything could happen.

Fintan O'Neill & Hugh Buckley Quartet
Arthurs, Dublin,
It's obviously the week for returning musical diaspora (see above). Pianist Fintan O'Neill left Dublin for New York in the 1980s, and he has carved out a career there as a respected musician and pedagogue. His debut album, In the Moment, featured three former members of the legendary Jazz Messengers, he has played with the fabled Nelson Riddle Orchestra and several of his big band arrangements have been performed at Carnegie Hall. But O'Neill has kept in touch with his roots over the years, and he will be among old, and talented friends this week when he joins guitarist Hugh Buckley and his band, featuring bassist Dave Redmond and drummer Dominic Mullan, for what promises to be an old-school swinging affair.

Thursday 20th

Carole Nelson Trio
Arthurs, Dublin,

Carole Nelson is best known as one half of Zrazy, the trailblazing jazz-pop duo who have been shattering moulds in Irish jazz since the late 1980s, but recently the UK-born Carlow-based pianist has been concentrating on her own trio with increasingly interesting results. Nelson’s spacious, Zen-like aesthetic runs counter to the density and testosterone-driven display of mainstream piano-trio playing, more akin to the Scandinavian sound of pianists like Bobo Stenson and Tord Gustavssen. The trio’s debut album, 2017’s One Day in Winter, was a serene mediation on nature and the passing of time, but the follow-up, Arboreal, which will be launched tonight night, is a more urgent statement, channelling the pianist’s disquiet about climate change into a new set of originals that confirm her as one of the more original voices in contemporary Irish jazz. With subtle support from bassist Cormac O’Brien and drummer Dominic Mullan.

Conor Guilfoyle Octet

Billy Byrnes, Kilkenny, (also The Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon, Friday 21st).

Drummer Conor Guilfoyle has real form when it comes to leading medium-sized ensembles. Starting in the early 1990s, the New York-trained drummer led a series of increasingly authentic Afro-Cuban bands which raised the bar for Latin music on the Dublin scene and became proving grounds for several generations of Irish horn players. Guilfoyle’s latest ensemble, recreating the lush sounds of Miles Davis’ epochal Birth of the Cool album, debuted at last year’s Bray Jazz Festival and was an instant hit. Typical of the driven drummer, the band is as tight as a drum skin and the sound impeccably authentic. Opportunities to hear this gorgeous, era-defining music played live are rare indeed, so there will be great interest as Guilfoyle’s octet embarks on a series of dates around the country over the coming months, starting this week in Kilkenny and Carrick-on-Shannon.

JazzGate: The Music of Paul Motian
Black Gate, Galway,
Okay, now it's getting interesting. Guitarist Aengus Hackett's excellent JazzGate series has been winning new audiences for jazz in Galway by presenting weekly shows based around the music of some of the legendary figures in jazz history. But after a year of shows with high name recognition, all the low-hanging fruit has arguably been harvested and Hackett's attention is beginning to turn to more contemporary figures. Drummer Paul Motian will be lesser known among civilians but for jazz musicians, the great drummer's journey from sympathetic Bill Evans accompanist to ground-breaking band leader and composer in later life is a source of continuing inspiration, and – following the publication of two volumes of Motian's compositions last year – the starkly original drummer's sui generis tunes are beginning to make their way into the standard repertoire. Drummer Dan Walsh joins Hackett, saxophonist Cathal Roche and bassist Neil Ó Loclainn for what promises to be a new and revelatory chapter in the JazzGate story.