Brilliant Corners Festival Jazzes Up Belfast

Brian Carson of Moving on Music hopes that Belfast will begin to compete with Derry~Londonderry and Cork on the international jazz circuit

Jazz has long been the ugly duckling in the larger Northern Ireland music industry family, perhaps looked down on as highbrow, pretentious, too cool for school. But there are signs that things are beginning to change.

A talented pool of homegrown jazz players is beginning to make waves nationally and internationally, producing original albums and creating new, modern sounds. As well as that, more and more venues are opening themselves up to the concept of jazz as an attraction, and are putting on regular gigs as a result.

In recent weeks it has been standing room only on Saturday afternoons at McHugh’s Bar, for instance, where the likes of Dana Masters, Linley Hamilton, Scott Flanigan, Steve Davis and Meilana Gillard are bringing the joys of live jazz to a new audience (see video below).

Brian Carson, CEO of Moving on Music – the foremost promoter of niche music in Northern Ireland –  believes that the time is right for Belfast to roll out its very own jazz festival. The inaugural, three-day Brilliant Corners Festival comes to venues in the Cathedral Quarter from March 21 - 23.

Carson is hopeful that Brilliant Corners will be help promote Belfast as a bigger, better player in the UK contemporary jazz scene. After all, the city will now be able compete with the likes of Derry~Londonderry, Cork and Limerick, which have long since promoted their own jazz festivals.

'Jazz is an under-represented music and our funders have backed our move to help develop it in Belfast,' Carson beams. 'If Brilliant Corners is successful, the idea is to grow it in the future by bringing in more big names, while at the same time increasing the input of local musicians.'

The festival has already attracted the attention of jazz scribes in Britain and Ireland, and it is hoped that fans will be attracted to come to Belfast to see what the festival has to offer. For an embryonic festival, Brilliant Corners is certainly an impressive one, with nine national and International acts booked to perform in The MAC, The Black Box and the Belfast Barge.

Moving on Music has managed to attract some great jazz talent, including the under-rated vocalist Liane Carroll and the Ellington in Anticipation project, led by former Loose Tubes saxophonist Mark Lockheart and featuring his fellow Polar Bear players, Seb Rochford and Tom Herbert.

'Liane Carroll has just released a new ballads album, so it will give the Belfast audience the chance to hear songs from that,' adds Carson. 'And Ellington in Anticipation has a fantastic line-up of musicians. It is an exciting project, so it was quite a coup to get them on their Irish debut at the Brilliant Corners Festival.'

Representing the small but burgeoning jazz scene in Northern Ireland, the festival will also showcase some of the innovative artists artists who are putting Northern Ireland on the jazz map, such as drummer David Lyttle and tenor saxophonist, Meilana Gillard (main image).

Gillard will likely perform some of her own compositions from debut album Day One, which was recorded in New York in 2009. Gillard has formed a new trio, Fine Print, for the festival and has brought over one of her New York-based colleagues, the brilliant young bassist and composer, Marcos Varela.

David Lyttle,  meanwhile – who runs his own independent record company, Lyte Records – recently released Interlude, an urban beat album, and Brilliant Corners will provide an opportunity for his full ensemble to perform the album live in Belfast for the first time.

The line-up also includes leading British jazz pianist Jason Rebello, who will give a workshop at the Beat Initiative during the festival. And Northern Irish drummer Steve Davis, who plays for the avant garde trio Bourne Davis Kane, will unveil his new band, Human, a week before the official launch of their debut album, Being  Human.

'Brilliant Corners Festival is exposing people to different types of jazz, from the more commercial to the cutting edge, and I would hope that it gets more investment and becomes bigger than Cork,' says Davis. 'We need a big international jazz festival in Belfast.'

While jazz may have a small core following in Northern Ireland, Carson believes that there is the capacity to appeal to a much wider audience, and sites the likes of Radiohead as conduits through which to promote the genre to music lovers in other genres.

'It is one of the key musical genres of the 20th century,' adds Carson. 'Improvisation is a principle of jazz, along with its rhythmic aspect, and it has influenced a lot of other types of music. Bands like Radiohead are heavily influenced by jazz.

'Progression is very much driven by openness and new ideas, and that is central to what is happening in contemporary jazz in Northern Ireland. The whole free or avant garde end of the music has opened up and it is no longer regarded as strange and esoteric.'

The broad influence and appeal of jazz on other types of contemporary composition is also reflected in the Brilliant Corners programme, with math rock stalwarts Continuous Battle of Order also scheduled to perform. Visit the Moving on Music website to view the full programme of events.

Brilliant Corners Festival