For a number of years now, the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival has struggled to find the right balance between a traditional jazz programme and one that appeals to the wider public. With it’s many venues ranging from the 800 seater Opera House, to the more intimate surrounds of the Triskel Christchurch, and the ornate Everyman Theatre, finding the act that fits has not always been an exact science. Thankfully in 2016 the programmers seem to have struck a harmonious chord, allowing each of the venues to resonate freely to their own idiosyncratic tunes.
A quick glance through the programme this year revealed a clear delineation between venues and genres, with the more populous and alternative acts such as Bell X1, Rodrigo Y Gabriela and Picture This heading up the Opera House, while The Everyman took on the top billing jazz acts. In between were the countless bars and clubs on the festival’s jazz trail, that entertained punters with an eclectic selection of pop, rock, ska… you name it, and the Metropole Festival Club with its late night Blue Note Club for this year’s musicians to get an impromptu jam in and a pint of the black stuff after hours.
Being a “jazz” festival, State was happy enough to set up camp in The Everyman this year, with its top-notch selection of double-bill performances, comprising of some of the most exciting acts on the jazz circuit today. The Friday night double-bill saw the ever-humble pianist Justin Kauflin kick the festival off in style with a selection of his own modern jazz compositions, as well as a few contemporary selections, including a solo interpretation of the much-loved Leonard Cohen classic, ‘Hallelujah’. His trad-style trio, with Copenhagen based rhythm section made way for a very different kettle of fish after the interval as Jacob Collier took off with an energetic performance of his own maximalist compositions as well as reworked hits by the likes of Stevie Wonder.
Saturday night’s double-bill featured the festival stalwart James Taylor Quartet, with their Hammond-led, lively acid-jazz, while the Robert Glasper Experiment combined hip-hop, RnB and jazz, often segueing into far out model explorations. While Glasper himself frequently joked about on-stage between his virtuosic ambidextrous improvisations, it was Casey Benjamin who stole the show here with futuristic vocoder lead lines and searing tenor sax solos.
On Sunday afternoon Jason Marsalis doled out a lesson in jazz history as his quartet deftly navigated a multitude of old-school jazz styles, veering from off-kilter Monk compositions, through fairground waltzes, to obscure modern compositions.
One of the festival highlights came in the form of American guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and his youthful new Caipi band. Performing all new material written exclusively for this band, Rosenwinkel appeared nervous throughout as he shyly introduced the songs. With his microphone blended with the signal from his guitar, his washed out vocals assumed an almost ethereal state as the cyclic, latin-based song structures hit the ears as life-affirming mantras. The second half of this double bill featured the 70s jazz-rock fusion band The Eleventh House led by Larry Coryell. Sadly the great Alphonse Mouzon who was billed as the drummer for this performance wasn’t able to make it due to sickness. Instead Coryell was joined onstage by guest organist Joey DeFrancesco, whose Hammond improvisations stole the show over the harsh, distorted guitar solos of Coryell and his son Julian.
Between acts in the Everyman it was possible to flit between pubs in the vicinity, with Gallagher’s on MacCurtain Street providing a double helping of Karen Underwood on Sunday, first singing gospel and blues classics from Nina Simone to Jeff Buckley, and later in the evening picking up the pace as she was joined by a full band. The Bodega was also enjoyable with its full-on programme of free live music as was the Oliver Plunkett.
All in all one of the most-enjoyable jazz festivals in recent years and it seems as if the attention to detail in catering for multiple demographics paid off. The late-night, Blue Note Club at the rear of Metropole Hotel also packed a punch with a loosely curated jam session each night that featured many of the festival’s guests including a visit from Robert Glasper himself and an excellent performance from Francesca Tandoi and her quartet.