An Irish Voice?

An Irish Voice?

Irish jazz musicians could be contributing a distinct Irish sound to the international scene, writes Patrick Groenland after a hearing a festival of European jazz.

12 Points!
Project Arts Centre, Dublin
4–7 May 2011

‘Where’s your courage?’ sang Anni Elif Egecioglu in one of the Finnish trio Elifantree’s catchier songs. The words, we were told, lamented a friend who had abandoned the arts in favour of a steady income. Audiences need a different kind of courage for the annual 12 Points! Festival. With twelve little-known groups from all over Europe playing original, improvised music, a certain amount of blind faith was asked of concert-goers – but the Project Arts Centre was almost full every night.

Referring to the debut festival in 2007, the festival’s director and master of ceremonies, Gerry Godley, spoke of how he tried to avoid presenting the acts as being in some way musically representative of their respective nationalities. The music in this year’s 12 Points! seemed to show the opposite each night. Each band brought a strong flavour of its native scene and sensibilities, which made for fascinating contrasts: we heard Portugal’s cool melodicism, Dutch pastiche and light-heartedness, Swiss classical sophistication, French Afro-rhythm and a kind of Scandinavian quirkiness in the Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish groups.

Typically the northern Europeans and Nordic countries were the boldest – each merging complex musical voices and sounds to form a well-defined whole. The Isabel Sörling group (Sweden), Pelbo (Norway) and Elifantree (Finland), as well as the Ambush Party (The Netherlands) seemed to delight in this blending of stylistic influences. The most multi-national group (in terms of music and nationalies) the Kaja Draksler Acropolis Quintet also made the most perfect synthesis of styles. Led by Draksler (pictured), a Slovenian pianist, composer and arranger, their music referenced modern American jazz as well as the European jazz label ECM, included Turkish melodies sung by vocalist Sanem Kalfa, a composition echoing Arvo Pärt, and echoes of Steve Reich in a composition by Romanian guitarist George Dumitriu.

Ireland surely has a small but strong jazz scene of its own, and the Dublin-based group ReDiviDeR represented this in their vibrant set. But against so varied a relief of European jazz, I got the sense that Irish groups in general can be more ambitious in contributing a unique Irish ‘sound’ to contemporary improvised music. Historically Irish jazz musicians have tended to look to North America for footsteps to follow; but perhaps is it now time that a modern, multicultural Ireland aspire to a courageous sound of its own?

Published on 13 June 2011

Patrick Groenland is an Irish guitarist and composer. Having studied at the Berklee College of Music, Boston, he is now based in Dublin.

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