Cork Jazz Festival: A Celebration of Music

The fortieth annual Cork Jazz Festival brings with it a jam-packed line-up of music from across the board. Mike McGrath-Bryan runs through some of the live highlights.

That time of the year approaches. Cork city fills up with the rambunctious strains of jazz standards from bands simply wandering the city, as the customary straw hats begin floating around for October Bank Holiday weekend. Meanwhile, the venues, pubs and spaces of the city ready themselves for a diverse programme that acts as an annual showcase for the city’s music scene for the thousands that roll in every year. Celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year, the Cork Jazz Festival sets out its stall with a line-up that places jazz at its forefront, while shining a spotlight on the city’s vibrant and vital music community through performances, workshops and other events, running from October 27th to October 30th.

The Opera House, as ever, provides some of the festival’s marquee names for the weekend, including a much-welcomed focus on homegrown crowdpleasers on Sunday night. On Friday night, festival perennials Booka Brass Band tread the big boards, while Saturday night is marked by a performance from late-eighties chart-botherers Soul II Soul, led by OBE-winning producer Jazzie B. At 6pm on Sunday, Imelda May continues her explorations away from the pop-laden rockabilly with which she earned her rep, venturing into blues, folk and gospel influences. From the stages of Waterford to drawing 10,000 people to their appearance at Electric Picnic (opposite a screening of the All-Ireland final!), King Kong Company are a favourite among audiences on the annual festival grind for a reason, and Sunday night’s late show sees the Buckfast-toting boxheads bring the Jazz to a close with a bang for the city’s landmark music hall.

Jazz stronghold The Everyman Palace provides purists and genre enthusiasts with the best tickets in town for the weekend, with a mixture of new and veteran voices. In what is sure to be a sellout, Australian pianist/vocalist Sarah McKenzie shares a double-headliner with double-bassist Gary Crosby and the Nu-Troop, recreating Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’ for its 60th anniversary. Saturday night sees Grammy-winning trumpet virtuoso Nicholas Payton and his Afro-Caribbean Mixtape fuse genres and sounds spanning jazz history into something new, in a double-headliner with fellow Grammy honouree Kenny Garrett and his quintet. On Sunday, the Palace plays home to its last double-header of the weekend, with veteran vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Monty Alexander Trio rounding off a marquee lineup. The Triskel Christchurch continues its run of support for jazz on the weekend also, with ECM Records supergroup Quercus headlining on Saturday, and jazz/trad fusion outfit Notify performing on Sunday evening before a double-header of Sue Rynhart and the Michael Wollny Trio that night at 8pm.

The eternally-busy Cyprus Avenue offers up a double-dose of headlining acts alongside a packed Bank Holiday schedule, kicking the festival off in earnest on Thursday night with a set from blues wizard Eric Gales. Meanwhile, Soulé, arguably one of Ireland’s breakout talents of 2017, shows Cork the vocal prowess that’s made her a quick favourite of music press and the Irish hip-hop scene alike on Friday night, becoming one of the youngest headliners in Jazz history to boot. Among other big-name acts appearing at Cyprus over the Jazz are DJ/producer Ben Sims, Kormac (with a full A/V set) and our own Stevie G, with his ‘Good Music’ night holding down the student crowd after Gales’ set on Thursday. Downstairs from the venue in the Old Oak bar, a constant stream of tunes for the weekend is on offer, but one would be remiss to miss local neo-soul smoothies Shookrah (Friday 7pm, Sunday 4pm) and funk 14-piece Quangodelic (Saturday 5.30, Monday 5.30) offer a madcap mix of funk/Blaxploitation classics and their own compositions.

The Music Trail has always been where it’s at for more discerning music heads, and among the strongholds of new and original music in the city, another anniversary is being celebrated, as Cork’s rock & metal outpost Fred Zeppelin’s marks its 20th year with, among other events, a celebratory gig put on by local metal promoters Pethrophile, headlined by noirish synth-rockers Unkindness of Ravens. Meanwhile, the newly-reopened PLUGD Records curates a weekender in its new home in the Roundy on Castle Street. Friday and Saturday are headlined by DJ sets from the residents of Gulpd Cafe staples Dim the Lights and Not How, When!, while Sunday features a titanic double-header of improvisation, psychedelia and exploration as The Bonk, led by O Emperor man Phil Christie, launch their new LP in a double-headline show with Cork jazz outfit Fixity, led by drum prodigy and community music advocate Dan Walsh.

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