Sounds and moves to kick off summer

 

The Arts: From jazz on Bray seafront to chamber music in Sligo and dance in Dublin, Irish Timescritics review the Bank Holiday weekend's arts action.

Bray Jazz Festival

Various venues

It was indicative of the range of this year's highly successful Bray Jazz Festival that the event's flagship venue, the Mermaid, should host the Orchestre National de Jazz's (ONJ) take on the music of Led Zeppelin at one end of the spectrum, and perennial funkmeister Maceo Parker, performing for a standing - and grooving - audience, at the other. Somewhere in between was Mare Nostrum, which combined the talents of Sweden's Jan Lundgren (piano), France's Richard Galliano (accordion) and Italy's Paolo Fresu (flugelhorn/trumpet).

One of the festival's highlights, this was an exquisite example of how jazz in the old world has found one of its distinctively European accents. The programme ranged over originals by the trio's members and adaptations of Ravel, Monteverdi and a beautiful Swedish folksong, Vårvindar Friska.

It sparked some superb improvisations by these gifted players, couched in a setting of delicately nuanced group dynamics. These were determined more by Galliano's influence than anything else and it was perhaps inevitable that there was a trade-off to achieve this balance; both Lundgren and Fresu are more forthright and overtly swinging performers than this context required or allowed them to be.

Jazz purists might be aghast at France's ONJ and its courting of Led Zeppelin's music, but this orchestra has been re-inventing itself for more than two decades. With two drummers and heavy rock rhythms, it was no place for shrinking violets, but the 10-piece unit was awesome in its collective and individual ability.

Director and vibes player Franck Tortiller's charts made deft use of a talented front line in himself, Jean Gabinet (trumpet/flugelhorn), Jean-Louis Pommier (trombone) and, especially, Michel Marre (tuba) and Eric Séva (saxophones), particularly on a standout performance of the lyrical Stairway To Heaven. Besides a gripping marimba solo from the last-minute newcomer Sébastien Bonniau, Dazed And Confusedevoked a wonderful assemblage of growls, smears, moans and shrieks from the ensemble, effectively sampled by Xavier Garcia (who also sampled engagingly on Four Sticks).

Negatives? The context afforded only glimpses of Patrice Héral's enormous talent. And, divorced from the stage, whether the music remains rewarding in recording is another question. But there's no denying that, caught live, this is a marvellously exciting band.

The festival had another gem in the duo encounter between singer Norma Winstone and guitarist Tommy Halferty in the Town Hall. With a repertoire that embraced standards and originals by Ralph Towner, Kenny Wheeler, Carla Bley, John McLaughlin and Jim Webb, she gave an object lesson in delivering lyrics and improvising to anyone with aspirations of becoming a real jazz singer.

Both she and Halferty, who was in exceptional form, have the gift of instant musical empathy, no matter how infrequently they perform together. And with her urbane and witty words to Steve Swallow's delightful Ladies In Mercedes, she showed what an outstanding lyricist she is.

There was much to admire, too, in Mouthpiece, at the Royal Hotel, where composer and orchestrator Dylan Rynhart's Fuzzy Logic teamed up with British trumpeter Tom Arthurs. Almost a week of rehearsals and touring had sharpened the ensemble's delivery of his demandingly inventive charts, all but one of which, Happy New Year, was new or relatively so.

Rynhart's pieces, crammed with ideas, melodic, contrapuntal and rhythmic, are full of incident, light and shade. But on the evidence of So Much To Smile About, Twist Your Shapeand Flip Shuffle, especially, this abundance is being developed more cogently and impressively. And that, in a way, is an apt simile to describe the festival, which next year will be 10 years old.

They both deserve and require the chance to move on to the next level. - RAY COMISKEY

Vogler Spring Festival

St Columba's Church, Drumcliffe, Sligo

The Vogler Spring Festival celebrated chamber music with a flair that never palled. The imaginative programming devised by the artistic director, Frank Reinecke, the second violinist of the Vogler Quartet, presented nine consistently engaging concerts, many of them for contrasted groups of musicians.

As always, the Vogler Quartet lies at the festival's heart; with the additional players, there was a total of six string players, a singer, three pianists, an oboist and a horn player, plus the Norwegian duo Improvise Now. The latter played banjo, accordion and violin in a programme that ranged far-and-wide in style and character, and their virtuosity and wit lived up to their publicity - "a dazzling, exhilarating and creative force". Several concerts featured fascinating juxtapositions, and one such was Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata for Violin and Piano, followed by Janacek's String Quartet No. 1, The Kreutzer Sonata. Both works are wall-busters of compositional convention and technique, and both received performances that relished the music's panache. The Vogler Quartet's playing had an on-the-edge intensity that showed deep understanding of this abrupt and sometimes violent piece. Violinist Anke Dill and pianist Finghin Collins played the Beethoven with muscular authority and flamboyance.

There was too much flamboyance on the pianist's part, for in this work and in the Chopin Cello Sonata with Olivier Marron, the piano sound overwhelmed the other instrument. It was frustrating, for Finghin Collins is perfectly capable of doing things differently. One example was in the informal encores at the end of the main programme, when he played the piano parts of Schubert songs with impeccable sensitivity. Another was Brahms's Piano Quintet. The Voglers played this always-astonishing piece with spacious flexibility and enormous power; Collins was with them all the way, in the quite subtleties as well as in its quasi-symphonic range of rhetoric.

The Canadian pianist Ian Parker provided several highlights, which included his two solo items, Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuitand Schumann's Fantasie. The latter was a late replacement for the Strauss Piano Quartet, because one of the players in the latter had a hand injury. In those circumstances, the highly coloured subtlety and coherence of Parker's playing was all the more remarkable.

Another pianist, Christiane Frucht, provided the most subtle chamber- music pianism of the festival. In Mendelssohn's Piano Trio in D minor Op. 49 she proved astonishingly capable of handling its elaborate note-spinning without fighting the strings. With Olivier Marron on cello and Anke Dill on violin, this was a beautifully shaped and responsive performance - one to set standards by.

Marron and Dill also provided some of the most impressive duo playing of the festival, in Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Cello. Another impressive duo featured Frucht on piano and Klaus Becker on oboe, in Britten's Temporal Variations. Becker - a musician of consummate authority and insight - also presented six movements from Stockhausen's Tierkreis. Playing music by Carl Reinecke, Franz Strauss (Richard's father) and Mozart, the horn player John Ryan, from Ireland, proved a reliable and sensitive chamber musician.

One of the most striking works in the festival was one of the least familiar, . . . oder soll es Tod bedeuten?, by the German composer Aribert Reimann (b. 1936). Scored for voice and string quartet, it draws on nine of Mendelssohn's settings of Heine. The subtly altered accompaniments, and the newly composed Intermezzos placed between them, create a fascinating commentary and amplification of the original - sometimes violent, sometimes poignant. It was beautifully and persuasively performed by the Vogler Quartet and soprano Bettina Jensen, whose luminous musical intelligence provided, here and elsewhere, several of the festival's highlights. - MARTIN ADAMS

Assessment:

Dublin Dance Festival

The power of the individual was constantly reinforced throughout the Dublin Dance Festival and not just in solo performances. Within the meta-politics of the Iraq war, William Forsythe focused on the devastation of one mother in his Three Atmospheric Studies, while Joe Public focused on his own individuality listening to beats via headphones at the festival's silent Bumper-to-Bumperdisco. Even a duet, such as Girl Jonah's She Was a Knife Thrower's Assistant, explored just one character.

Often the solitary body took on the role of interpreting the universal, such as Sarah Skaggs's individualisation of post-9/11 uncertainty in Dances for Airportsor Kitt Johnson as shaman-scientist in Rankefod. But there were also dancers searching for their own personal dance who stumbled upon a more universal statement.

Solos by Jean Butler ( Does She Take Sugar?) and Colin Dunne ( Out of Time) both took the embodied knowledge of years of step-dancing and set out to realign it with their more recent training in contemporary dance.

Through this search for a new personal aesthetic, they raised more general questions. Why does modern society engage with tradition through preservation rather that interaction? Will traditional arts and heritage centres become the Victorian zoos of the next century?

Jenny Roche's embodied knowledge is more fragmented. Years spent dancing works by diverse choreographers have left her body with scraps of dance knowledge and interpretative habits. Solo³, three works by Jodi Melnick, John Jasperse and Liz Roche (her sister), allowed her to clearly embody specific roles or what she calls "moving identities". Jasperse's Solo for Jenny: Dance of (an undisclosed number of) Veilsand Melnick's Business of the Bloomshone the spotlight on the performer as a conduit of ideas, but Liz Roche's Shared Material on Dyingopened that spotlight, both literally and metaphorically.

As Jenny Roche danced in the silence centre stage, Liz Roche and Katherine O'Malley mirrored her movements within an umbra of half-light on either side. It was at once elegant, strong and sad, but still offered a meditative sense of hope.

Over at Dancehouse, dancer Mairéad Vaughan and vocalist Regan O'Brien shared the informal studio setting in Being Nowhere, yet Vaughan seemed completely alone as she struggled with reconciling the quietness of her energy with the bustle of contemporary life. Solo dancer Mary Wycherley also questioned order and chaos with composer Jürgen Simpson in Receiving Systems. The two mixed bills were part of Re-Presenting Ireland, a new initiative with Dance Ireland showcasing Irish dance. Although the range on offer wasn't all that meaty for the international presenters attending, it was a welcome addition to the festival's role in local development.

Dance on the Box, an initiative with the Arts Council and RTÉ, brought dance films to the nation's living rooms via RTÉ2. However varied - they depicted a traditional session in a pub, a drab day in the life of a dancing family, a nostalgic swing club and guerrilla performances on roundabouts and garage forecourts - all four films addressed the position of dance in daily life. The notion of a sole dancer as outsider interrogating the norm was particularly strong in director Morleigh Steinberg's Unsungand Luke McManus's Monitor.

With a new artistic director, Laurie Uprichard, and even newer branding, Dublin Dance Festival has retained the strengths of its predecessor, but also inherited some of its problems. Audiences are impressively diverse, but, as in previous festivals, the crowds who jam the gala opening at the Abbey tend to evaporate when the festival moves to smaller venues. It's a shame because, as this year festival proved, one eloquent dancing body can often speak louder than a packed stage. - MICHAEL SEAVER