Swinging Out

 

THE Guinness Jazz Festival opened with a bang - a massive clap of thunder - on Friday evening, and ended with a storm yesterday. In between, it was driving rain and driving jazz all the way, with virtually every inch of Cork city thumping to a jazz beat and sometimes a rock beat, but we won't worry about that. It was good.

Musicians like Clark Terry, Joe Lovano, Lynne Arriale, Harry "Sweets" Edison, the Irish Jazz Orchestra, and many more top of the heap musicians made it another memorable, swinging festival.

Joe Lovano - Dawn Beat magazine's Jazz Musician of the Year and Symbiosis, who include his wife Judi providing coloratura soprano vocals, generated the most heated debate of the weekend. People either loved them or hated them.

The sharpest description of his music came from a friend who observed that "Joe Lovano sounds like Feltini playing jazz. This was after his concert in the Cork Opera House on Saturday night, when he replaced Michel Petrucciani, who was ill.

Lovano, saxist and composer, is very contemporary. He doesn't like the avant garde label but it fits well. As that fine singer, Bob Whelan - Dublin's answer to Mel Torme - observed: "Joe doesn't do requests."

His Opera House concert and his subsequent sessions in the Metropole Hotel, hub of the festival, were anarchic and exciting, improvisational and wonderfully chaotic: Lovano's saxes mixing with Judi's stratospheric vocalising; Gary Valente, the trombonist joining in the mayhem; Ed Schuller on bass and Bob Mayer on drums, all contributing to the oddly disciplined discordant output of the ensemble.

Another highlight of the weekend was Clark Terry at the Metropole on Friday night. Clark is an Ellington orchestra alumnus a funny, infectious man, full of bounce. At 76 he still blows sweet flugelhorn and crisp trumpet, occasionally engaging in little musical "dialogues" with the two instrument on the same tune.

He fronted the Don Friedman Quartet, with Friedman on piano and a brilliant Dave Glasser on alto sax. There was riveting contrast between Clark's quality toned delivery and Glasser's fierce biting solos.

It was a lot of fun, with mostly standards from Bye Bye Blackbird, Once I Had A Secret Love, and Mood Indigo to the boppish Salt n Peanuts, to On Green Dolphin Street, which in addition to gorgeous solos, Clark scatted, mumbled and sang his way through.

Clark was also the featured guest with the BBC Big Band in the Opera House on Saturday night, but that didn't gel so well. For 12 years Guinness has been trying to attract the BBC orchestra to Cork and they played Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, bringing on guests such as Honor Heffernan, Claire Martin, Louis Stewart, James Moody and Bobby Watson. The band was good, but not that good.

Watson, a former Blakey Jazz Messenger is a formidable alto sax player. His searing version of My Foolish Heart with the band was quite stunning. But I think Watson - backed by soulful pianist James Williams, another former Blakey Messenger and the likes of Clark Terry and tenor saxist James Moody were better suited to the more intimate jazz rooms in the Metropole.

And while it was an interesting experiment to give the BBC Big Band squatters' rights at the Opera House, it would hardly be worth repeating.

I thought I'd had enough of big bands until I wandered into the ballroom of the Metropole on Saturday afternoon. It was like being in NASA. Here were the Irish Jazz Orchestra, and these fellows had lift off.

This 19 piece outfit led by Canadian trombonist, composer and arranger Hugh Fraser comprises musicians from North and South: they had only a few days to rehearse, but without exaggeration they were awesome - tighter than a snare drum, red blooded and thrilling.

I recognised some of the Belfast based musicians such as the coming drummer Darren Beckett, and saxophonist Dermot Garland, but most were strangers to me. But such a disciplined surge of sound! Their versions of Charlie Mingus Boogie Stomp Shuffle and Goodbye Pork Pie Hat were excellent, inventive solos from Gerry Godley on baritone sax, and Derek O'Connor on alto.

Lots of good pianists in Cork at the weekend. I thought bassist Frank Tate's Guinness All Stars were a little flat in the sense of "been there, done that, read the music sheet" - but the band's pianist Dave McKenna delivered some lovely lyrical solos.

Brad Mehldau, the brilliant young American pianist who featured with Louis Stewart and on Sunday night with James Moody at the Metropole, won the Guinness Rising Star Award for 1996. Inspired musicianship all round here, but the pianist who warmed my heart was Lynne Arriale from Milwaukee, leading a trio of Dave Fleming on bass and Steve Davis on drums, perfectly sympathetic to her sensitive, introspective style.

She had such tender depth of feeling, evocative of Bill Evans. Her version of I Loves You Porgy and her own dark and moody scam position, With Words Unspoken were bewitching.

Over the weekend there was also some discussion as to whether Marry "Sweets" Edison has "lost it". Now obviously Sweets at 81 isn't blowing as sweetly as when he was lead trumpeter for Count Basie, but he can still swing.

He teamed up with saxophonist Red Holloway and backed by a patrician rhythm section of Jim Doherty on piano, John Wadham on drums and Leon Clayton on bass delivered rich, melodic jazz. For some of the time Sweets thought he was in London - these guys travel a lot - but nobody took umbrage, he was always in the right groove, in Cork.

The Benny Golson tribute featuring saxophonist Benny Golson because Americans believe in honouring musicians when they are actually alive - headlined the Opera House on Sunday night. It was a great line up which included Curtis Fuller on trombone, Jon Hendricks on vocals and another former Blakey Messenger Brian Lynch on trumpet - there's just so much the late Blakey has contributed to jazz.

But there were sound problems and the band did not do themselves justice. However, Brian Lynch's long solo on I Remember Clifford was strong, sensitive and simply masterful.

And that's not the half of it. Spike Robinson seems to get better as he ages. Dave O'Rourke on guitar was powerhousing it with organist Seleno Clarke. Guitarists Mike Nielsen and Ronan Guilfoyle played well, unafraid to push forward the barriers of experimentation.

Van Morrison drew enthusiastic crowds to late night concerts at the Opera House. The jive, salsa and acid house bands kept the rock orientated confraternity happy.

So, all in all, this was an exciting festival. With discriminating attention to the jazz programme the buff couldn't go wrong. What was worth hearing and there was lots - couldn't be covered by any mortal, even with the gift of bilocation.