Review: Brilliant Corners Festival, Belfast

Trevor Hodgett found some of Brilliant Corners' music challenging and some beguiling, while a few audience members fled from tidal waves of distorted sound

Few nowadays, surely, would wish to seriously dispute the contention that Ornette Coleman is one of the three or four most influential jazz musicians in the music’s history. A Tribute To Ornette Coleman (Black Box, 8 March), by a quartet fronted by alto saxophonist Tony Kofi and trumpeter Byron Wallen (pictured right), was, therefore, a prospect to be relished. In the event the musicians thrilled the audience with a high energy, high intensity performance of music that was at times challenging and at times mindboggling in its technical complexity – but somehow always emotionally powerful as well.

Throughout, the interplay between Kofi – who actually recorded with Coleman, in 2010, on the For The Love Of Ornette CD – and Wallen was scintillating. On Free their opening duet was dramatic and urgent and was followed by a ferocious alto solo before Wallen took over with playing that was, initially, contrastingly plangent and then ever more discordant and disturbing with the trumpeter eventually sounding like a soul in utter torment. On Beauty Is A Rare Thing, a ballad, the tension between the eloquent, beautiful-sounding alto of Kofi and Wallen’s anguished-sounding trumpet established a satisfying ambiguity while on Monk And The Nun, the two men duetted with gospel fervour, the number also featuring a spectacular drum solo by the excellent Rod Youngs.

The quartet’s fourth member, local double bassist Alan Niblock, played throughout as if his very life depended on it, notably during his long unaccompanied solo on The Face Of The Bass. “He’s playing his ass off – we only met him today!” announced Kofi admiringly.

Swiss piano trio Vein (Crescent Arts Centre, 9 March) played with ingenuity, delicacy and wit on a set that mainly comprised original compositions such as Under Construction, alongside Duke Ellington’s ballad Reflections In D, on which Michael Arbenz soloed exquisitely, the pianist clearly savouring the introspective beauty of the melody. The communication between the musicians as they collectively improvised was lightning fast and highly sophisticated. So enthralled were the audience by the likes of No We Can’t – But Vote For Us Anyway that one felt that they certainly would, given the opportunity, vote Vein – and indeed, in accordance with local custom, would vote for them both early and often.

It seems astonishing that Northern Irish quartet Cacao (Belfast Barge, 10 March) were making their live debut because the band, who specialise in Brazilian music, negotiated the sinuous rhythms of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Corcovado (Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars), Girl From Ipanema and The Waters Of March, Jorge Ben’s Mas Que Nada! and songs by Joyce Moreno, Baden Powell, Airto and others with considerable panache. Vocalist and nylon-string acoustic guitarist Gnanam Samuel sang and played delightfully; trumpeter Linley Hamilton contributed several lyrical solos.

Irish band OKO – Shane Latimer (electric guitar/electronics), Darragh O’Kelly (keyboards/synthesisers), Shane O’Donovan (drums), DJackulate (turntables/sampler) – along with New York alto saxophonist Tim Berne (pictured left) (Black Box, 11 March) created soundscapes that were often abrasive and at times fearsome. This was turbulent music for turbulent times, with, on occasion, tidal waves of distorted sound engulfing and almost overwhelming the audience, a small number of whom, it must be said, fled in horror.

The occasional quieter interludes felt ominous rather than tranquil in a set that in its entirety comprised two 45-minute improvisations. The music certainly wasn’t easy to listen to and it wasn’t always enjoyable – but it was rarely less than fascinating. “Just as long as you don’t hurt anybody,” a deadpan voice on one of turntablist DJackulate’s LPs repeated insidiously in the final moments of the set – which seemed as good a note as any on which to end.

Tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith and pianist Brian Kellock (Black Box, 12 March, afternoon) are both gifted melodicists and highly lyrical players and, playing acoustically, their versions of Duke Ellington’s Single Petal Of A Rose and Sophisticated Lady, Michel Legrand’s You Must Believe In Spring and The Summer Knows and other standards were utterly beguiling. The opening of Smith’s solo on Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust, on which his playing was so restrained and gentle as to be barely audible and yet so achingly beautiful as to rivet the audience, was one of the most sublime moments of the festival.

Dinosaur (Black Box, 12 March, evening) – Laura Jurd (trumpet/FX - pictured right), Elliot Galvin (keyboards), Conor Chaplin (electric bass) and Corrie Dick (drums) – belied their youth with astonishing musicianship on a repertoire of original compositions destined, apparently, for an upcoming album. At times material like Awakening, Robin and Living Breathing had an appealing melodic directness that was reminiscent of folk song, at times the dense grooves recalled electric-era Miles and at times a minimalist influence was evident but the music was absorbing throughout with Jurd impressing with imaginative solos that were masterful in their construction.

Photos by Trish Keogh-Hodgett

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