Bourne Davis Kane at Brilliant Corner Jazz Festival

One of Europe's finest avant-garde jazz trios tune up for a world premiere at Brilliant Corners Festival

Bourne Davis Kane is widely regarded as one of the most adventurous, creative and entertaining avant-garde jazz bands in Europe. How pleasant it is to reflect, then, that two members of the band – drummer Steve Davis and bassist Dave Kane – hail from Bangor.

Both recall an inspiring teacher and cutting edge gigs in Belfast as being crucial to their musical development. 'I got interested in free improvised music through studying with Brian Irvine [at North Down College], but also through Moving On Music and seeing AMM and William Parker and various people at the Crescent Arts Centre,' recalls Kane.

It is perhaps no surprise that renowned composer Brian Irvine had such an impact on Kane: 'Brian had a massive influence on me,' he confirms. 'He taught us that no matter what you’re playing to be fully committed to it and believe in every note. That’s stuck and is one of the most important things to me.'

Davis also studied at North Down College. His memories of Irvine’s teachings are as vivid as his bandmate's: 'His big thing was to be individual – don’t regurgitate what other people have done. Brian was the first person who inspired me and told me to check out Ornette Coleman and John McLaughlin and all these people.'

Moving on Music, the niche music promotions agency behind the forthcoming Brilliant Corners Jazz Festival, which runs in venues across Belfast from March 26 – 29, have worked closely with various Northern Irish jazz luminaries, such as David Lyttle and Linley Hamilton. Davis cites their diverse concert platforms as key experiences in his development as a musician.

'Brian would tell me to go to Moving On Music concerts, and one of the first ones that moved me was saxophonist Julian Arguelles. I’d only heard American jazz to that point. Suddenly here were great musicians like Mike Walker on guitar and Django Bates on E-Flat horn, and the music was so different from American music. It didn’t have the obvious swing rhythm. It had other, European influences and that opened my mind to European jazz.'

Both Kane and Davis continued their studies at Bretton Hall College in Yorkshire, and it was in Yorkshire that Davis first encountered pianist Matthew Bourne. The historic encounter, bizarrely enough, happened when the two men found themselves playing in a function band.

'At function gigs you’ve got to hold back so you don’t annoy people,' Davis laughs. 'It’s all very boring. But at this gig Matthew, who I hadn’t met, on his first solo pulled his sock off and started playing the piano with his foot. And I thought, "Hang on, this is somebody interesting".'

Like Davis, Bourne had a fascination with British jazz. He is a huge fan of the often undervalued British jazz musicians of the 1960s and 70s, whose records he began buying in his own youth, in the Cotswolds in the 90s.

'These records were really hard to find and I got passionate about finding them,' he reminisces. 'The music was so raw and full of spirit, everything seemed to be on fire all the time and players like Harry Beckett, John Surman and Mike Osborne had a sound and style that were immediately recognisable.'

Given that both Davis and Kane had attended Moving On Music gigs in Belfast, it is appropriate that the organisation’s head honcho, Brian Carson, was responsible for Bourne Davis Kane’s formation. His light bulb moment came after seeing Bourne play at the Bath Jazz Festival.

'He was blown away and came up with a brilliant idea, to bring Matthew together with Dave and me to play at the [2002] Belfast Festival,' says Davis. 'That was a really great gig and we realised we’d got something we could work on. And we’ve been busy ever since.'

Kane remembers the band’s debut with equal affection. He partly attributes the gig’s success to the audience: 'If you feel the audience are there with you, it shapes the music and in Belfast they were really involved and giving and receptive and it was an amazing gig.'

'If you’re reaching out to the audience and they’re just sitting there not knowing how to react, that’s the worst,' adds Bourne. '[Jazz legend] Illinois Jacquet said, "It’s like having sex with a woman and there’s nothing happening. That’s bad." So, yeah, the success of most gigs is dependent on the audience and the Belfast audience was one of the best I’ve ever experienced.'

As well as their work together, Bourne, Davis and Kane all perform in other contexts. Bourne often plays solo, Davis leads the London-based Human and Kane leads Rabbit Project. Davis has also worked with Van Morrison recently, playing in his band at Morrison’s celebrated gig in Belfast’s tiny Harp Bar, on New Year’s Eve, 2013.

'I’ve never worked with someone like that, with six Grammys or whatever, and it was a revelation,' he enthuses. 'We did 11 rehearsals. Usually in our field we do one rehearsal for lots of gigs. This was lots of rehearsal for one gig.

'I don’t have Van Morrison albums,' he admits. 'I wouldn’t have been a fan. But when I worked with him I really realised why Van has had the career he’s had, because there’s something about his voice and the way he can put a song across and the power he has musically to control a song with a group of people that’s special, and I didn’t realise that until I worked with him.

'And he understands blues and jazz very deeply. He knows a lot about the recordings and the history and who played on what. He follows everything really closely. He knows about everything on the scene in Northern Ireland and Ireland and the UK. Even after doing it for so long, he’s so into music. He is just possessed by it. He just wants to play. That’s what was lovely. And he was very pleasant and open.'

At the upcoming Brilliant Corners Jazz Festival, Bourne Davis Kane will be playing a composition, 'Sound Carvings, Strange Tryst', specially written for them by contemporary classical composer and Queen’s University academic Piers Hellawell.

The collaboration is intriguing, given the separate musical worlds inhabited by jazz and classical musicians. 'The challenges have been huge, a lot harder than I expected,' says Davis. 'We’ve had intensive sessions looking at Piers’s music and they’ve been really difficult because the music he writes is complex but also quite different from what we do.

'A classical composer is used to writing a fixed piece and every time it’s played it’s exactly the same. But now Piers is having to write something where the score will change and evolve as we play it more. So he’s trying to write in a new way that will accommodate the way we work.'

Exceptionally for a jazz band, Bourne Davis Kane have now been together for nearly 12 years, since that legendary debut at the Belfast Festival. The musicians’ enthusiasm for their partnership remains undiminished, however.

'The enjoyable thing is you never know where the music’s going to go,' explains Kane. 'And we all have a similar sense of humour and that comes out in the way we perform. It’s never taken too seriously, which a lot of improvised music can be.'

'It’s the best group and the best musical situation I’ve ever been in,' Davis concludes simply.

Bourne Davis Kane perform the world premiere of Piers Hellawell’s 'Sound Carvings, Strange Tryst' at The MAC, Belfast on March 29 as part of the Brilliant Corners Jazz Festival.