The David Lyttle Three

Graham Crothers sees NI jazz gaining momentum

After much wrangling with venue managers across Belfast, emerging jazz composer and drummer David Lyttle, with talented ensemble in tow, has secured a weekly residency in the Cathedral Quarter's Black Box.

To have reservations about the survival of a regular contemporary jazz night is wholly just, considering its history of false starts.

The David Lyttle three are Lyttle (drums and percussion), Mark McKnight (guitar) and Conor McCreanor (bass).

Lyttle and company first made an impression cutting their teeth at White's Tavern with Jazz at White's, followed by The Improv Room in The Spaniard. This night blossomed temporarily before the plug was pulled.

Recently, Lyttle and friends have entertained audiences in No Alibis Bookstore on Botanic Avenue. As you can imagine, staging a jazz gig in a bookstore can only produce a relaxed, inviting atmosphere, yet it was one unfortunately hampered by a limited capacity.

As the essence of jazz lies in experimentation and improvisation, a venue like Black Box, committed to evenings of poetry slams and specialist area club nights, seems like a natural home for the cream of NI jazz to do its thing.

Thankfully for enthusiasts of the genre, tonight the pairing works like a dream.

This evening the David Lyttle Three play the intimate front room (the back is usually reserved for larger scale events like club nights) which has been charmingly arranged into a comfy lounge.

Large sofas are pushed against the back wall whilst trendy pop art adorns the walls, lending to the room’s hip aura.

It’s easy to succumb to the swinging rhythms after a glass of red wine, or curl up on one of the sofas with a grin the size of a Cheshire cat.

The trio’s extensive gigging has taken them both north and south of the border. Apart from a few of hiccups, namely, when McKnight momentarily loses Lyttle amidst one of his smoking solos, the threesome gel fantastically, playing with flair and lethal precision.

McKnight, resembling a Premiership footballer more than a jazz maestro, dazzles the audience with his nimble finger work and electrifying solos. Lyttle, as ever, is in fine form. A consummate pro, it’s hard to imagine him ever playing sloppily or below par.

Tonight is reserved for the trio’s own individual compositions, producing an evening of varied styles that drift from sophisticated ballads to uptempo, drum 'n' bass-tinged numbers.

Convinced for a long time that the smoky, intimate surroundings of the Spaniard had ‘jazz club’ written all over it, after tonight’s performance I’m not so sure.

NI jazz has had the stuffing kicked out of it repeatedly - surely after tonight it has earned its stripes to become the success it’s always promised to be.