Festival Review: Guinness Cork Jazz Festival

A true jazz festival puts out a captivating vibe right across the host environment.

AMERICAN JAZZ singer Dee Dee Bridgewater. (photo credit: BARRY DAVIS)
AMERICAN JAZZ singer Dee Dee Bridgewater.
(photo credit: BARRY DAVIS)
Jazz is about much more than just the music, however uplifting, thought-provoking, moving or scintillating it may be. The formative spirit of the art form lives on in many contemporary acts, as it has done over the past century or so, and, traditionally, it has always been a street-level discipline. Ergo, it follows that a true jazz festival puts out a captivating vibe right across the host environment.
That was evident in abundance at the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival, which took place at that charming southern Irish town at the end of October.
While there were plenty of big-gun headline acts across the four-day program – including the likes of Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander, saxophonist Scott Hamilton, charismatic vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, saxophonist Kenny Garrett and trumpeter Nicholas Payton – moseying around the city center you got the impression that the whole town was gleefully jumping and jiving.
The festival organizers had clearly pulled out all the stops to make sure the 40th edition of the annual event did its illustrious history justice. Taking a stroll along MacCurtain Street, for example, you’d catch any manner of sonic vibes belting out of Gallagher Gastro Pub on the corner of St. Patrick’s Hill, from rock to soul to Latin music and much else betwixt. The nearby Shelbourne Bar also had plenty to offer in the way of live entertainment, as clients supped their brew of choice, as did BarBarrela over on Barrack Street, to the south of the River Lee, and over 50 other locations around town, including an open-air stage on Emmet Place, near the food stalls, which largely catered for traditional jazz combos and drew voluminous crowds.
But the hub of the whole shebang was the Metropole Hotel on MacCurtain Street, which had dozens of free slots on offer through the day, taking in Celtic jazz, a vocalist-guitarist tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, a youthful gospel choir, and oodles of high energy big-band shows which evoked the zeitgeist of the Golden Era of early jazz, from back in the jolly, ankle-tapping, leg-shaking days of the Swing era.
The pick of the free slots I caught was veteran pianist and BBC Radio show presenter Brian Priestley’s salute to modern jazz founding father, maverick pianist Thelonious Monk.
He, fittingly, went for a quartet format, taking the audience along inventive musical byways and highways with some Monk standards, such as “Round Midnight” and “Panonica,” but also some lesser known works, like the complex “Brilliant Corners.” Well-informed and erudite septuagenarian pianist Priestley noted in his between-numbers patter that, some time ago, he chatted with Monk’s drummer- bandleader son, TS Monk, who indicated that he had little time for musicians who tried to replicate his iconic dad’s work rather than bringing their own baggage to bear. Priestley certainly proffered his own understanding of Monk’s music, with some deft arrangements and nimble musicianship on the part of all the players, with the young saxman in particular producing some angular departures.
Meanwhile, among the more formally presented evening fare, evergreen 73-year-old Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander kept the Everyman Theater audience suitably entertained with a high energy, smile-suffused show, before 67-year-old Dee Dee Bridgewater weighed in with a high energy salute to the soul music of her youth.
The previous evening’s concert at the venerable Triskel Christchurch venue was a more low-key affair – at least in terms of decibels – with the Quercus trio of English folksinger June Tabor, Welsh jazz pianist Huw Warren and English saxophonist Iain Ballamy enchanting the audience in the former church with a sumptuous sonic offering. Tabor, a mainstay of the English folk scene for over 40 years, has lost nothing of her velvety vocal prowess, while Warren and Ballamy adroitly complemented her charmingly plaintive singing. The instrumentalists were left to their own resources on a couple of numbers, and were clearly happy to let their hair down.
For more information about the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival: www.guinnessjazzfestival.com.