China Moses: “I’ve Never Had So Much Love!”

Singer, broadcaster and ambassador for the artform – over the years China Moses has played many roles. Fitting then, that on her newest album and run of gigs, she finally gets to cut loose. Mike McGrath-Bryan talks to jazz royalty about family, songwriting and the Great American Songbook.

From a young rapper, to a broadcaster and custodian of the arts, to a versatile singer and social commentator, it’s been quite the journey for singer China Moses. Born into jazz royalty, the daughter of the legendary Dee Dee Bridgewater and pioneering African-American theatre director Gilbert Moses was always going to have massive boots to fill, but rather than try and follow where they lead, Moses has simply done what she’s wanted to do, leading her to become a headline jazz singer in her own right, by way of European hip-hop and the Great American Songbook.

This journey has brought her to the release last year of newest album ‘Nightintales’, a mature piece of work that sees Moses fuse soul, jazz and r’n’b into cogent, compact pop, dealing with modern issues like alienation and anxiety. Though it released last year to critical acclaim, Moses has been living with the record for a lot longer. “The album was finished in 2015. It took me two years to find a label that wanted to release it! I met the lovely people at MPS Records in Germany, and they’re a small label, so their release calendar was really backed up, so they asked ‘would you mind waiting a bit?’. That was in 2016, and I asked ‘how long?’, ‘cause I’d been touring this project already, trying to keep my live work going. And they said ‘if you can wait until March of 2017, we’ll be all yours.’ And I’m very, very glad that I waited. ”

In keeping the record to short bursts of accessible, whip-smart pop, Moses has invested ‘Nightintales’ with the kind of brevity that is the soul of wit to modern-day, streaming-centric audiences. That immediacy was at every level of the album’s creation, from writing, all the way into working with collaborators in studio. “I’m very proud of the way the album sounds. It was recorded in the jazz tradition of keeping everything to one take. The musicians are one-take, I re-recorded my vocals as there was a lot going on, and we had way too little time. So, what you  hear, piano, bass, drums, are all one take. Them boys, they can play. I still love it. The reason I can still love it, is the songs are still very short, on purpose, on the album format, so in concert we can stretch them out. It’s an opportunity for the musicians to play, to interpret the song the way they’re feeling it that night. I find that as a vocalist, we often have a tendency to concentrate on the voice, but for me, and this is what my mom taught me, you are nothing without your band.”

Over the years, Moses has also worked comprehensively with the accepted Great American Songbook, across numerous stage shows and heritage projects. No great surprise, of course, considering her roots, but an important and distinct influence on her creativity and frame of reference. “I didn’t graduate high school. My deal with my mother was I would get a GED (Leaving Cert-equivalent diploma for school leavers in America) after my first album. I’ve always lived with two ‘burdens’. Having Dee Dee Bridgewater as your mom is definitely not a burden, I can attest to that. She’s a great mom and an amazing artist. But that’s one thing, trying to live up to what she’s done, and on the other side, I had the burden of not knowing who I was musically. So, when I did two (blues-influenced albums), it was like I went back to school, and ‘Nightintales’ was my thesis. It was like, ‘how do I take my heritage, my Black American musical heritage, and tell my story, my testimony, respecting the past while staying in the present?’. I didn’t want it to sound like something that could be mistaken for being recorded earlier in time.”

In 2012, Moses performed for UNESCO’s first annual International Jazz Day in Paris, alongside her mother and numerous other jazz luminaries, among other performances for the organisation over the years. It was a landmark performance for Moses, and it all came together on the day, while also tending to her duties as a broadcaster and interviewer at the event. “UNESCO are awesome! I went to Mexico this year, for UNESCO Mexico, for Culture Week in the region of Guadalajara. On the Jazz Day, at first I was just supposed to co-present the evening, then they came around and asked me to sing a song. I was like ‘whaaaaat?’ (laughs). It was crazy. I remember being scared, completely freaking out for the first song I did, and I think it really sounds like that. When it got to the finale, we did ‘On Broadway’, which was crazy, because I didn’t rehearse. I was co-hosting and interviewing everybody. I didn’t have time to rehearse the finale! I thought I was just singing background vocals, and right before we go on stage, my mom says ‘you have the third verse’. And ‘On Broadway’ keeps going up in key, the last verse is the highest, and I have a lower voice than my mom. I’ll never forget seeing George Benson’s face when I started singing. I had Uncle George’s approval! I was over the moon. It was so much fun, so laid-back, hanging with all these greats.”

As an aside to her music career, Moses has worked comprehensively as a broadcaster in France, including time with Canal Plus’ ‘Le Grand Journal’ music show, radio shows on JazzFM and TSFJazz, and documentaries with arts broadcaster ARTE. Music and broadcast media are odd yet complementary bedfellows for creative types, and Moses is quick to discuss her experiences on the ‘other’ side of that equation. “TV made me a better stage performer. It taught me to speak to a group of people at once. A lot of artists aren’t trained for that. I have no problem hyping up a song like Nancy Wilson or Frank Sinatra, who could set up a song. It’s also kept me extremely humble. There ain’t nothing special about me. I’m just doing what I do, the best that I can, and having a lot of joy doing it, and if it makes someone else happy for the space of a concert, or if I can make ‘em feel different kinds of emotions, take ‘em on a journey, shit, man, I’m happy. My job is done. Radio keeps me connected to music, to my love of what I do. Without music I would be a crazy person. It’s not just my passion, it’s my anchor.”

Moses is coming to Cork for her first Jazz Festival excursion this year, performing on a double-bill with the Pablo Ziegler Trio at the Everyman on Saturday October 27th. The appeal and enthusiasm of Ireland’s jazz community for getting behind major events is what stands out to Moses ahead of the big event. “I was in Dublin for the Cork Jazz Festival’s press event there, and I played for twenty minutes. Last year I was in Bray, for the jazz festival there, that was my first time in Ireland. It was a beautiful day, I wanted to live here, but then I thought of all the rain I hear about (laughs). I had the most amazing time in Dublin. It was a joy, and what was funny was, I didn’t recognise any of the people there, I found out the day after that they were all these social media influencers and tastemakers, and it was neat to see them discover jazz. I’ve never had so much love!’”

China Moses plays the Everyman Palace on Saturday October 27th, in a double-bill with the Pablo Ziegler Trio at 8pm. Tickets on sale now from guinnessjazzfestival.com

Cork Jazz Fringe Festival: Engaging with the Community

The Fringe and Music Trail events have always been important to the Jazz Weekend’s engagement with the city’s community, with hidden musical gems and workshops aplenty. MIKE McGRATH-BRYAN takes a look.

Engagement with the city’s community groups, residents and businesses has been key to the growth and development of the Jazz over the past four decades: it is, after all, with this support that the weekend festival has been able to expand into a bank-holiday staple capable of attracting music fans from all over the world. The Jazz Fringe Festival, a programme of events at venues around the city, is an important part of this process, bringing music, tuition and performances to the citizenry as part of the weekend’s proceedings.

At the heart of the Fringe is the festival’s club, running all day and night throughout the weekend from the festival’s spiritual home at the Gresham Metropole Hotel, where the first Jazz was booked in 1977 to fill a gap left by a cancelled bridge tournament. With numerous resident performers, and appearances from ensembles also playing elsewhere throughout the weekend, it’s the very heart of the festival itself, and any perusal of the festival requires a stop at the Metropole at some stage during the weekend. Other all-weekend festival venues around the city for some free jazzin’ include the outdoor stage at Emmet Place (outside the Opera House, also playing host to the Jazz Bites Food Fair), and the River Lee Hotel’s Riverside Bar.

The City Library has long been a staunch source of support for musicians in the area, and it’s fitting that the library’s music department opens proceedings with a pair of crash-courses in music theory and appreciation. Wednesday 24th sees a special beginners’ seminar in reading sheet music take place at 11am, as musicians and guests attempt to help stave off confusion surrounding the written language behind the sounds. The class is suitable for all levels of musical knowledge and all ages. The following day, same time, same place, a special workshop on listening to Jazz takes attendees through the question of jazz music, and why casual listeners have historically odd about it. This presentation is aimed at introducing jazz to suit all tastes, new pathways into listening and enjoying jazz, and to providing information on a vast and exciting sonic world.

Hallowe’en preparations kick off in earnest on Thursday 25th with a Festival Parade, winding through the city in celebration of Dia de Los Muertos, the Latin-American Day of the Dead. Held in association with Cork Community Artlink and setting off at 7pm, it’s suitably spooky fun for all the family, as a marking of the beauty of life and death takes in major floats, dancers, musicians and performers, weaving their way through Cork city. A New Orleans-type jazz funeral is at the centre of proceedings, with live improvising jazz musicians paying homage to departed jazz greats. Friday the 26th marks a major first for the Jazz, as the Festival has commissioned ‘Unity’, its fully-immersive audiovisual experience, fusing Jazz, contemporary classical and electronica, juxtaposed against the surrounds of St Luke’s Church, now better known as the ‘Live at St. Luke’s’ venue. 4k microscopic projections, a full lighting show, and The David Duffy Quartet unite to accentuate a show that examines what it is that connects, unifies and binds us. Tickets are €15, from uticket.ie.

The CIT Cork School of Music has long been a destination on Jazz Weekend, for a look at the new generation of musicians and performers, as well as family-friendly entertainment. On Saturday 27th at 10.30am, the CITCSM Youth Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Sarah Dewhurst and with special guests from the New York Jazz Standard Project, provide a programme of big band music, suitable for all ages. Wee jazzers will also have the opportunity to meet all the different instrumental families, as they feature in familiar tunes from TV and the silver screen. At noon in the same building, the CITCSM Jazz Big Band gets ready for a High Noon Jazz Gala, as the finest young musicians on the degree programmes of the CSM are directed by award-winning composer, pianist and arranger Cormac McCarthy in a recital of modern and standard classics that’s kept the event a hot ticket among jazz fans for years. Tickets for these events are are online at events.cit.ie.

While the Sunday is packed with the usual favourites, including live jazz at Cork City Gaol at 4pm (tickets €5, email info@corkcitygaol.com), Monday 29th has a pair of highlights for musicians and poets alike amid all the sore heads and smaller shows that typically accompany the festival’s last day. Vocalists can head to Voiceworks on South Terrace at 1pm, for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with Cork Jazz headliner Sachal Vasandani, alongside veteran Cork vocalist, Gemma Sugrue. These two world-travelled singers promise an intimate vocal workshop, working with all levels of singers to up their vocal development game (€40 for participating students, €20 to attend as a non-participating member). That night, poetry night Ó Bhéal has its annual jazz-poetry session. The night begins as usual at 9.30pm, with the group’s customary five-word poetry challenge, followed by impeccably-monikered guest poet Sex W. Johnston, who will be accompanied by jazz musician Darragh Hennessy, who will also improvise music to the later open-mic poetry session.

Meanwhile, throughout the weekend, there’s a lot on for more discerning palates, as the best of original music from Cork and further afield can be spotted amid the chaos and jazz standards of the music trail. Electric on South Mall plays host all weekend to performances from Cork folk singer-songwriter Marlene Enright, as well as DJ sets from this parish’s own Ronan Leonard. Fred Zeppelin’s keeps metalheads happy on Friday night, with a crushing headliners double-bill of Scots doom lads King Witch and Leeds post-metallers Hundred Year Old Man, while punk rockers can shine their boots for Saturday’s free gig, featuring Dublin oi merchants Jobseekers and seldom-seen Cork punx Stanton’s Grave. Sunday sees Cork’s finest neo-soul six-piece hit the back room of Coughlan’s on Douglas Street, as Irish Times Band of the Year winners Shookrah look likely to pack the venue out for a late show at 11pm.

For more information and tickets, check out GuinnessCorkJazz.com.

The Altered Hours: “It’s All in the Guts”

The Altered Hours have been on a roll in the last eighteen months or so, going from the release of debut long-player In Heat/Not Sorry, to European touring, to bringing the roof down on Cork venue Gulpd Cafe on its final night (all of which you can read about in Village Magazine’s piece on the band from last month). Now, ahead of another body of work’s creation and the grind attendant to same, the band are headlining on Sunday night at Live at St. Luke’s, the biggest stage they’ve ever played at home, on the busiest night of the Cork Jazz Weekend. Cathal MacGabhann, guitarist/vocalist, discusses how the band have been about the venue and the challenge of filling a church of that size with all that noise. “We haven’t really approached this with the mindset of how big or small the venue is. Essentially we would play anywhere, but this is an interesting opportunity for us to surround ourselves with an atmosphere we are less accustomed to. We have been working on a couple of new songs which I’m excited about… the set list is looking like quite a mixed bag right now.”

The new stuff being aired is being tested out with the acoustic properties of St. Luke’s Cathedral in mind, with some numbers providing an element of dynamic to the Hour’s frenetic, speedball live shows. MacGabhann addresses the challenges in framing material for such an event. “We have played in so many different types of venues at this stage you kind of get an instinct for what might work and where. That being said, we always try something new when we can, and it’s always at its most fun when you really don’t know if it’s going to work or not. It’s all in the guts.” Tickets to the event (€20 from uticket.ie) come with a download of a new odds and sods collection curated by the band. After eight years together, there’s sure to be a few gems that have gone through the cracks. “Over the years I’ve been compiling demos, sounds, loops and other acoustic offshoots from studio sessions. I’ve always wanted to release these things intermittently, and I feel this is a good time to do this. The ‘mixtape’ is called ‘1000 Years’ and it’ll be available online for everyone in the near future.”

Waterford songwriter Katie Kim, off the back of a Choice nomination for fourth album ‘Salt’, and being a kindred soul for the band musically, is also confirmed for the bill, but the biggest surprise of all is the announcement of Spacemen 3/Spiritualised bassist and writer extraordinaire Will Carruthers in a supporting role, also. This, of course, is fresh off his autobiography last year, and a massive crowd-funding campaign for his healthcare bills. An unusual hookup for the band to say, the least. How it happened wasn’t, so much. “I met Will at a roast dinner party in Berlin (laughs).”

The band have also been busy on various side-projects: Morning Veils, one of vocalist Elaine Howley’s side-projects, recently turned up on one of Limerick skratchology don Naive Ted‘s new E.P.s, providing vocals, sounds and other noises for ‘Go Home To Your Wives’. In Howley’s absence, MacGabhann lays out the process to the best of his knowledge. “I think they went into the studio together a couple of months ago, and just went for it. I love that track… and all of Ted’s work. Big fan.” Likewise, bassist Paddy Cullen has also begun experimenting with electronic music in recent times, following a longtime engagement with drone/noise. “Patrick has always had a keen ear for electronics and over the years has used it more and more in our group. Since the early days, we were heavily involved in the 24-hour drone parties and stuff like that (in Cork). He uses electric shavers and vibrators and other trinkets on his bass & FX…I love it.”

The gig goes down at the Jazz Festival, the absolute busiest time of the year for music in Cork, where the city is teeming with casual revellers and music fans alike for hundreds of gigs in dozens of city-centre venues. MacGabhann has his highlight for the Jazz Weekend in mind already. “The Bonk (psych-rockers) & (improv jazzers) Fixity are playing the same night as us and I’m hoping we can make it down after our show. It’s a late show.” With a milestone like St. Luke’s approaching, the band already have their next few steps planned out, and while MacGabhann keeps his cards close to his chest, it’s looking like a busy few months for the Altered Hours camp. “We are recording at the moment… it might turn into an album. The next EP is enroute, along with full tour dates. And ‘1000 Years’ will see the light of day sometime soon also.”

The Jazz at 40: Past, Present and Future

It’s said that history happens when no-one is looking, and this could certainly be said of the origins of the Cork Jazz Festival. Mike McGrath-Bryan takes a look at the Jazz’ development, and what lies in the future for the October Bank Holiday institution.

Suffice to say, festivals in Cork were a far different kettle of fish in 1978 to the current state of play. While the city’s music scene was beginning to shift shape under wider influences, and Macroom’s Mountain Dew shindig had just entered its third year, the festival calendar in Cork wasn’t the hectic onslaught of genre celebrations and all-dayers that the city’s culture vultures are au fait with now. In fact, the city’s most enduring music festival wouldn’t even have happened if the Metropole Hotel on McCurtain Street hadn’t been able to go through with an altogether more pedestrian booking for the State’s first official October Bank Holiday. Jazz Festival co-founder Pearse Harvey explained the Jazz’ roots to the then-Cork Examiner for a special supplement in 1998: “A National Bridge Congress which had been booked in to the Metropole for the last weekend in October was cancelled. Jim Mountjoy, then marketing manager at the hotel, was in a dilemma as to how he might recoup some or all of his lost business, and he contacted me with an invitation to discuss a jazz idea he had for the hotel. Over lunch Jim explained the implication of the bridge cancellation, and asked me what I thought of the idea of staging a mini-jazz festival in the hotel over the weekend, and would I help set it up.”

Harvey’s jazz acumen, and Mountjoy’s prowess as a pitchman, helped seal the deal with the Jazz’ first sponsors, tobacconists John Player, a sponsorship move that would be unimaginable in the current climate. In October of 1978, the first annual John Player Jazz International was announced, booked by a committee of members of the recently-defunct Cork Jazz Society, in a manner that might be deemed ‘DIY’ in modern terminology, cold-calling agents and bookers to determine talent availability and fees. Their efforts bore fruit, as Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen packed out the Opera House, while the Ronnie Scott Quintet with Irish jazz pioneer Louis Stewart, sat alongside George Chisholm, Monty Sunshine, Will Bill Davison and Betty Smith among others in the billing at the Metropole, in addition to a strong lineup of local outfits, including Leeside jazz staples Harry & Friends. Many traces of the multifaceted music event with which we are familiar today emerged can be traced back to this community endeavour: the Metropole of course played home to the Festival Club and indeed a great amount of the programme, while the festival’s current Jazz Camp strand of events got its start in workshops hosted by Louis Stewart on guitar and Shaun Forde on jazz percussion, the latter becoming an impromptu jam with attendees.

Despite some hiccups in the early going, including the second installment’s headliner Oscar Peterson cancelling his appearance owing to illness, and the Dutch Swing College Band ending up in Shannon owing to a flight diversion, the festival swung from strength to strength. Leading lights of the oeuvre came through town on European swings in touring to lend weight to the event in its infancy, including Art Blakey, Memphis Slim, and headlining the third installment in 1980, the immortal voice of jazz herself, Ella Fitzgerald, performing matinee and late shows amid a massive media presence and a warm civic reception. The rundown of eighties lineups indeed read now as a ‘who’s who’ of jazz and blues history: Sonny Rollins, Mel Torme, Buddy Rich, B.B. King, Acker Bilk, and Stephane Grappelli are but a handful of the legends who came Leeside to put their mark on a rapidly-growing civic institution.

1981 saw the John Player company pass on further sponsorship, casting doubt on the festival’s development. Amid rumour and controversy that the white-hot festival would be relocated to Dublin, Guinness took the mantle, becoming main sponsor in an arrangement that continues to this day. Speaking on the matter in 1998, Mountjoy outlined his pitching process to the Dublin brewery and how the risks paid off. “I put my ideas to them on how I saw the Festival going forward – a large Pub Trail, a Jazz Boat from the U.K., a Jazz Train from Dublin, and greater domestic & overseas marketing of the event.. the results were immediate, with all types of accommodation within a 15-mile radius, and up to 35,000 visitors of all age groups attending the festival. Many of my friends (in marketing) consider the Jazz to be a classic in off-peak creative marketing.”

Jennifer Gleeson, sponsorship manager at Guinness, reflects on the company’s current relationship with the festival. “We’ve seen it grow and develop over the years, from what started out as a small gathering of people into what is now one of the most prestigious and hotly anticipated cultural events of the year. It takes a lot of effort year in, year out, and what’s really brilliant is that the passion for the festival just grows year-on-year. It’s definitely one of the finest examples of collaboration between ourselves and the Cork Jazz Festival committee, Cork City Council, Failte Ireland and all the publicans, hoteliers, venue owners and restauranteurs who play such a huge part in ensuring people leave the festival with such amazing memories and a longing for their return next year.”

As the eighties gave way to the nineties, and the Jazz become entrenched in the Leeside gigging calendar, the likes of Chick Corea, Dave Brubeck and Dizzy Gillespie headlined the festival, solidifying their legacies as attractions in the twilights of their careers. As the new millennium dawned, the Jazz Festival Committee began the inevitable expansion to a wider audience via jazz-influenced artists, as well as taking on crowd-pleasers like Damon Albarn. Jazz Festival Committee member Fiona Collins explains the balance behind the festival’s oft-scrutinised booking decisions. “It’s about looking at the quality of the acts, and seeing what best suits the venues we’re going to, and the type of audiences they will draw. For example, this year, we have the Miles Davis tribute on Saturday at the Everyman, and Soul II Soul at the Opera House at the same time. Both come under the broad jazz umbrella, but both are at completely different ends of the spectrum. So it’s about maintaining and figuring out that balance.”

With said balance in mind, the Jazz Festival has undoubtedly grown into the marquee weekend of music in the city. Case in point, the Jazz opens on Friday evening with Paddy Casey and Brian Deady, two well-travelled songwriters, in a free outdoor show, and the Festival Club is headlined by Ronnie Scott’s All Stars, in association with the late jazzman’s eponymous club in London, bringing the festival staple full-circle on its anniversary, also marked by an exhibition of behind-the-scenes photography from late Jazz committee chairman Bill Johnson.

Elsewhere around the city is a feast for music aficionados regardless of taste and age to get lost in, adding to the atmosphere and eclecticism of the Jazz. Says Collins of the festival’s atmosphere: “For me, the festival is Cork. You can’t have one without the other. I love that over the weekend, that you get to experience parts of the city that you don’t normally experience. For others, it’s getting out and exploring the streets of Cork – getting out and hearing the marching bands, getting to feel the buzz. It doesn’t matter what street you’re standing on, you’re going to feel it.”

Dee Dee Bridgewater: Yes, She’s Ready

For legendary jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, the upcoming weekend allows her to continue exploring her roots, following the release of new album ‘Memphis, Yes, I’m Ready’. She tells Mike McGrath-Bryan about her journey to date.

The body of work that Dee Dee Bridgewater has created in four decades of music and stagecraft is a daunting task to summarise in a quick explainer: Grammy-winning vocalist, Tony-winning theatre performer, United Nations dignitary, and most recently, a recognised master of her craft. Coming up in the nineteen-seventies, Bridgewater cut her jazz teeth working alongside the likes of Sonny Rollins and Dizzy Gillespie as part of the Thad Jones Big Band. Bridgewater discusses working alongside names and faces that have become part of jazz history. “It was wonderful. I was at the start of my career, and it was wonderful to have been embraced by all of these legends. It was really like my school, like music school, as I had no formal musical training, and it was exceptional to be called to do gigs with people like Dizzy and Sonny.”

As mentioned at the outset, Bridgewater pursued a parallel life in musical theatre, winning a Tony and obtaining a Laurence Olivier Nomination. Balancing the disparate artforms became part of her life, and she observes the differences there were in their respective creative processes. “There would be a common thread. In musical theatre you are working in an ensemble, and in jazz, depending on the size of your band, it would also be an ensemble situation, having to pull your weight, to make the whole as good as possible. But when you’re doing theatre, you’re dealing with specific songs, staying married to melodies, you’re not supposed to improvise, as the way you come in or out of a song can be a cue for someone else. With jazz you have much more freedom of expression as it’s based on improvisation.”

This year Bridgewater was awarded with one of America’s highest honours in the jazz genre: the National Endowment for the Arts’ Jazz Master recognition. At a time when the Endowment and public arts funding is under grave threat from the Trump administration, Bridgewater is vocal about the importance of the arts to public life. “It was wonderful to be recognised. I did speak out (in my speech) on the fact that this current administration is trying to cut back on all things cultural. So far, the NEA has been left intact, and that’s a good thing. As an individual, I feel somewhat obligated to speak out, to voice my opinion when the platform allows itself. I’m not one to use the stage to speak out politically, I don’t think that’s correct, but whenever I can, depending on the platform, I speak my mind. For example, the new show I’ll be performing in Cork, I use the song ‘Why Am I Treated So Bad?’ as an opportunity to speak about race relations, and what’s going on in the United States right now.”

New album ‘Memphis, Yes I’m Ready’ sees Bridgewater brings together songs from the Black radio of your childhood, continuing the exploration of your life in music. What was the process like this time for returning to Memphis and choosing songs? “Returning was a great experience for me. I first went back in 2014 and to see the places you lived in, the neighbourhoods are still there, is a wonderful thing. To visit the school where my father taught, that’s great. Those are just like putting puzzle pieces together in one’s life. I picked songs predominantly from when I was able to catch WDIA radio in Flint, MA when I was growing up. It became about songs that would go together, the centrepiece for me was a song called ‘Givin’ Up’ by Gladys Knight and the Pips, the very first song I heard on this station. At the time I was listening to it secretly, I didn’t know my father was one of the original DJs on WDIA when they had created the all-Black music format in 1949. He was known as “Matt the Platter Cat” and worked alongside B.B. King and Rufus Thomas.”

Bridgewater is playing the Jazz Festival as a headliner at the Everyman Palace on Sunday night. Ahead of the visit, she’s excited about reconnecting with a little piece of her ancestry, and getting into the spirit of the weekend. “I’m very excited! It’s a festival I’ve wanted to do ever since I was performing, especially when I moved to Europe, to live in France. I didn’t seem to be on the radar, I don’t know (laughs). I’ve got some Irish descent. My middle name is Eileen, and I have 17% Irish ancestry, so I’ll be coming home! It’s a great show, the melodies are very simple, I think people will really enjoy it. It’s music that makes you feel good and gets you to dancing.”

The Bonk/Fixity: Improv Jazz & Psych-Rock Exploration

One of the sleeper hits of the Jazz Festival is set for upstairs in the Roundy on Castle Street on the Sunday night, as psych-rock outfit The Bonk launch their new album with Leeside jazzists Fixity in a double-headline show. Mike McGrath-Bryan investigates further.

Since debuting in earnest in 2015, The Bonk have been on a slow boil of gigs, including Cork’s Sudden Club Weekender and Quarter Block Party festivals, and intermittent single releases that have been received well critically. Led by O Emperor man Phil Christie, the project explores the influences of he and the revolving door of collaborators around him. Songcraft gives way to spontaneity, and slivers of jazz, Nuggets-esque garage rock and early psychedelia are heard amid the dichotomy of regimental rhythm and melodic liberties. Debut long-player The Bonk Seems to be a Verb has been released this month via Drogheda collective/label ThirtyThree-45. Christie discusses the process behind assembling and producing the full-length. “The album collects pieces from various recording sessions over the last few years. The arrangements are mostly based around rhythmic layers and improvised melodic lines. It’s an approach that allows for a nice variety of directions to emerge and so I thought I would keep going until things started to sit nicely together. The recording process was very good fun and very much driven by curiosity which was nice as the studio can sometimes become a frustrating place if you’re too rigid about the outcomes. It was a pleasure working with Brian at ThirtyThree-45. I came across the 24-hour digital radio station that he runs last year, it’s called ‘The Augmented Ear’ and I highly recommend checking it out! I noticed that he had posted a callout for submissions for the cassette label. As it turned out, we have similar musical inclinations, and we were both glad of the opportunity to work on something together.”

The album does indeed release on cassette, an increasingly frequent reoccurrence that seems to have outlived the initial novelty value of the mini-revival the format underwent at the beginning of the decade. But with so many options available now, more casual music consumers might be forgiven for asking what the attraction is. “With the tapes… there are sides, which is an upside for us (laughs). It’s nice to have to flip them over. Brian comes from an art background himself, and so I think he is interested in the materiality & design of the objects and packaging, and would like to continue building up an interesting series of releases. So, we were also very happy to be a part of that project. Besides that, half of the tunes were recorded onto a four-track cassette recorder, so there was something nice about reproducing those sounds as they were captured.”

The band completed its first round of touring in its current state in April of this year, and while people-wrangling of any scale can be difficult enough, getting a multiple-headed beast like The Bonk around the country must surely have presented challenges. “Given that the band can stretch up to seven of us, the logistical element of the operation can be a little daunting at times but I’ve really enjoyed playing the songs live, and it really makes a difference to have the full group involved. It’s kind of cool because all of the recordings are live versions in themselves, and so every performance stretches the tunes in different directions. This time around I think everyone is a lot more aware of those possibilities. It’s also just a very pleasant experience to meet people in different venues and hang out, it makes the hours of solitary bedroom mixing worthwhile.”

The band’s double-header with Fixity on Sunday October 30th sees the band at the centre of attention in one of the city’s pillar venues for alternative and experimental events, a status backed up by the relocation of PLUGD to the upstairs space in daytime hours. “We’re delighted to be able to have the gig in in The Roundy and very pleased that PLUGD is back up and running. It’s really a testament to all the great stuff that’s happening in Cork that a new home for weird noises and gigs has been provided so quickly since the closing of the venue at the Triskel Arts Centre – respect to all involved, it’s all good news. But yeah, we’re very much looking forward to that show. It’s the last gig of the tour and we’ll have completed four gigs on the trot with Fixity by that stage – the levels of achingly inane psychobabble should be peaking around then!”

Channelling his experience as one of Cork’s busiest tubthumpers via stints with several Leeside bands, Dan Walsh’s Fixity emerged from the fringes of the city’s psych-rock scene, a maze of side-projects from which Walsh distinguished the project with sharp live turns into jazz-tinged explorations. Walsh and collaborators have had a bit of a break from the constant stream of releases that accompanied the band’s establishment in the past few months, the highlight of which was the release of studio full-length ‘The Things in the Room’ via Cork imprint Penske Recordings, on which Walsh is keen to comment. “It was a beautiful experience making that record, from start to finish. When the four of us were in the studio that day, we didn’t foresee someone like Albert (Twomey, Penske/PLUGD) having the passion and capacity for trust to bring it to peoples’ ears in the way that he did with a double-LP on Penske. We were commited to the music we played that day, and that’s still true. (Collaborators) Emil, Nils and Fredrik threw themselves into my music and the present moment with intention and strength of character, and when people do that, it’s a gift to all involved. There have been lots of heavy days of music since for Fixity as a result, and many more to come. I count that as a success.”

Walsh’s work at the helm of Cork Improvised Music Collective in the former Gulpd Cafe seems to have had a knock-on effect on the Leeside scene in recent years: improvisation seems to be returning to the fore, whether it’s Walsh’s projects, the slew of improv bands featuring Shandon-based Darren Keane, or the improvised nature of the work of bands like ooSe and Bhailiú. Walsh discusses the nature of sustainability and effort for the niche in the city’s scene. “I can only really speak for myself, and I’m not sure if improvisation has ever been a large part of what goes on in Cork, but I know that the improvisers I have known here have always been resourceful in putting on independent events so that they can get it done, and encouraging of others in its benefits as a means of music-making. A few promoters like Joe and Stevie in the Pav who put on STINK gigs on the regular, and Jim Horgan in Gulpd taking on CIMC have made a difference in giving myself and others opportunities to continue exploring it. It’s the kind of thing that grows when shared, I think, and that’s part of trying to uphold a rich tradition of its place in music in general if it’s something you are passionate about.” When asked about the next step for Fixity after bringing PLUGD’s jazz proceedings to a close, Walsh is far more succinct: “We’re going to record an album the day after.”

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.