Brilliant Corners Festival, Belfast

This year's edition of the jazz-inspired Belfast bash included Sarathy Korwar, Lina Allemano, Alexander Hawkins and Binker Golding

At Brilliant Corners, Belfast 2023, clockwise from top left: Lina Allemano, Sarathy Korwar, Ant Law, Alex Hitchcock. Photos by Trish Keogh-Hodgett

Drummer-percussionist Sarathy Korwar and his band played music drawn mainly from their recent CD Kalak, music which in its blend of jazz, Indian classical music and electronica was often utterly beguiling. The album’s title is of course a palindrome. And, amusingly, the band in their clothing became a living embodiment of a palindrome. Thus, from left to right, and indeed from right to left, they were resplendent in ochre, yellow, yellow and ochre shirts respectively. This perfectly befitted the music which had a cyclical quality, with each number acquiring a cumulative power, becoming ever more compelling as the performance of it progressed.

For most of Remember Begum Rokheya, which celebrated an early 20th century Bengali feminist writer, the music entirely consisted of all four musicians hand-clapping rhythmically and singing wordlessly in harmony to uplifting effect. This was marvellously enhanced when first percussion and then entrancingly melodic flute were added to the soundscape. By way of contrast on That Clocks Don’t Tell But Make Time all four musicians played percussion, the inexorable, naggingly insistent rhythm feeling ever more oppressive and even sinister.

Tamar Osborn (baritone sax, flute and electronics), Jack Stephenson-Oliver (keyboards and electronics) and Magnus Mehta (percussion), as well as Korwar himself, all played with great creativity, with different instruments often being electronically treated on stage, in real time.

The Ant Law & Alex Hitchcock Quartet Featuring Jasper Høiby + Sun-Mi Hong might be a long-winded band name but all four players deserved the namecheck for this is a wonderfully collaborative ensemble. All the band members are masterful musicians but also masterful listeners and their almost telepathically fast reactivity to each other, on the likes of Chrysalis, Vivid and the gorgeous Don’t Wait Too Long, was a joy to behold. Bassist Høiby and drummer Hong were as supple and sensitive a rhythm section as you could dream of, the main soloists – guitarist Law and saxophonist Hitchcock – played with notable inventiveness and, satisfyingly, the music was simultaneously complex and, through its melodic quality, easily accessible.

“I need to tell you a little story because I need the blood to come back to my lips!” announced Canadian trumpeter Lina Allemano good-humouredly during her acoustic quartet’s fascinating set. Her poor lips certainly deserved a breather because Allemano played with remarkable intensity, at times using extended techniques such as circular breathing. The music interspersed composed passages, some rather elegant, with passages of often tumultuous free improv. The interplay between Allemano and altoist Brodie West, facing each other across the stage, crackled with a symbiotic energy on the likes of Beans, Banana Canon and Scrambled/Over Easy. Negative and Positive were informed by the trauma of Covid-19, as was Plague Diaries, a four-part suite with each part – Longing, Trying Not To Freak Out, Hunger And Murder and Doom And Doomer – being introduced by an unaccompanied solo by, respectively, Allemano, West, double bassist Andrew Downing and drummer Nick Fraser. The musicianship here was profound.

The Fergus McCreadie trio’s set largely comprised a continuous piece of music lasting nearly an hour which incorporated several tunes including North and some which were new and as yet untitled. The melodic themes frequently alluded to Scottish traditional music on which pianist McCreadie, double bassist David Bowden and drummer Stephen Henderson improvised with unfailing inspiration and sensitivity. The music had a limpid beauty, the dynamic range was notably wide and the audience seemed mesmerised, listening in pin-drop silence even during the most hushed and delicate moments. After almost 60 minutes of such ravishingly lyrical playing the applause was thunderous with one punter, caught up in the moment, excitedly exclaiming “Free Scotland!”

The Alexander Hawkins trio’s performance featured a mixture of composed and freely improvised music, a tribute to Wayne Shorter, much use of extended techniques, passages of ferocious, almost overwhelming intensity interspersed with passages of precarious tranquillity and the sampled voices of Sun Ra and Louis Moholo, triggered from the innards of Hawkins’ piano. Hawkins’ dexterity throughout was astonishing with drummer Steve Davis and bassist Neil Charles ever alert to every nuance of his – and each other’s – playing. Hawkins admitted that the trio could rarely get a gig in Great Britain but the Belfast audience was totally blown away by this thrilling, endlessly inventive performance.

The music of saxophonist Binker Golding’s quintet was an exhilarating mash-up of hard bop, blues, Americana and rock with suggestions here and there of country, gospel and traditional Irish folk. Golding soloed with tremendous fluency and visceral power with several of the numbers featuring succinct and irresistibly catchy melodic phrases, as on the soft-rockish All Out Of Fairy Tales. The repertoire entirely comprised numbers like Love Me Like A Woman and (Take Me To The) Wide Open Lows from Golding’s current album Dream Like A Dogwood Wild Boy. Pianist Elliot Galvin’s soloing was virtuosic and beautiful while guitarist Artie Zaitz contributed some moving blues playing.

Brilliant Corners Festival, Belfast, 2-11 March 2023