Michael Buckley (tenor saxophone, flute), Justin Carroll (piano), Ronan Guilfoyle (bass), David Lyttle (drums) & Greg Osby (alto saxophone)
JJ Smyth’s, Dublin
24 February 2008
The enrichment of jazz education in Ireland in recent years has created many opportunities for Irish musicians to forge links with international counterparts, often via scholarships to music programmes abroad. Since Ronan Guilfoyle first travelled to the Banff Centre in Alberta over twenty years ago, for example, many young Irish performers have attended that prestigious creative institution, learning from jazz masters and establishing working relationships with some of the world’s best musicians.
A recent Banff attendee, Belfast drummer David Lyttle has compiled an impressive jazz resume at a young age, including a debut CD released last year, True Story, that features eight of his own compositions. In February, Lyttle put together an all-star group of Irish musicians, including Guilfoyle, with his Banff mentor Greg Osby for an Irish tour that illustrated how fruitful such global contacts can be.
Osby was an inspired choice. Since his time in the mid-eighties with the M-Base Collective, he has been a formidable innovator, always searching for expression outside the usual boundaries. His writing and reed playing are edgy, angular, and rhythmically complex. With sixteen Blue Note albums under his belt, he is at his creative peak, and he has never been afraid to go wherever his inquisitive musical mind leads him.
The tour’s closing concert at Dublin’s Pendulum Jazz Club was a display of first-rate musicianship as the band balanced Osby’s probing, off-beat pieces with Lyttle’s more straight-ahead compositions. Both modes were superbly supported by Guilfoyle, who swung with gusto and moved with instinctive sympathy and high creativity through the modulating tempos and elastic turns of Osby’s intriguing arrangements, including the wonderful ‘Vertical Hold’, with its complex, stop-and-go structure and inspired soloing.
Though comfortable at any pace, Osby likes slower tempos that leave plenty of space for his music create its effect. Listeners might have expected his oblique alto style to clash with Michael Buckley’s more conventional density, but the two horns combined wonderfully, creating a powerful front line in the ensemble passages and contrasting to fine effect in their solos. Osby brought out the inner Andrew Hill in Justin Carroll, who contributed highly structured, almost geometric accompaniment.
David Lyttle has also learned well from his teacher, and while his own writing lacks Osby’s adventurousness, it did give the band more opportunity to open up, with ‘Welcome Home’ in particular offering great responsiveness and control from the drummer as well as a muscular and dramatic solo from Buckley. Thelonious Monk’s ‘Ask Me Now’ and the standard ‘Nature Boy’ rounded out the set list and showed how Osby’s highly innovative arrangements can bring new life to older material.
There was a time when a visiting international star cruised into town, ran through standard material with a pick-up rhythm section, and moved on like a hired hand. This gig, though it hit a few flat spots as it negotiated its challenging repertoire, was a good example of the new global model, with an emphasis on close collaboration and a project approach to touring. The result is a lot more satisfying, and also demonstrates how Irish jazz now performs comfortably at the highest international level.