Umbra: West review – A new generation of Irish jazz musicians comes of age

Umbra, West, ****, Self-Released

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Artist: Umbra
Genre: Jazz
Label: Self released

A new generation of Irish jazz musicians comes of age with this accomplished debut album from Dublin quintet Umbra.

The band’s leader and composer, guitarist Chris Guilfoyle may bear an illustrious name – his father Ronan is perhaps Ireland’s best known jazz musician – but this exciting, beautiful, intensely rhythmic set of compositions, inspired by the guitarist’s journey along the west coast of America using only public transport, is as fresh and original as anything coming out of the jazz melting pots of Europe or America this year.

The compositions – each named for a different city visited along the way – blend complex grooves and cyclical melodies with a muscularity and raw, punkish energy that will connect with audiences far beyond the jazz ghetto.

Meshuggah, Aphex Twin and Kurt Rosenwinkel are all grist to Guilfoyle’s mill, and he writes with the forceful personalities of his band mates in mind.

Drummer Matthew Jacobson and bassist Barry Donohue lay down jaggedly funky grooves, while saxophonists Sam Comerford and Chris Engel weave in and out with gorgeous written parts and liberated solos.

Best of all, when the leader cuts loose, his absorbing improvisations take Rosenwinkel’s attenuated melodic lines into new spaces.