The Tommy Halferty Trio Feat. Seamus Blake At JJ Smyths – Review
Formidable guitarist Tommy Halferty brings his power trio of Kevin Brady and Dave Redmond to the Dublin jazz institution that is JJ Smyths tonight. As if this wasn’t enough,Vancouver saxophonist Seamus Blake is the honourable guest. Having emerged from the same scene as the likes of Kurt Rosenwinkel in Berkeley, he won the prestigious ‘Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition’ in 2002. Proving to be a force to be reckoned with ever since, he has established himself as one of the modern greats.
The queue outside JJ’s is jaw dropping. Jazz gigs, naturally, are not normally the hottest events in town, but tonight Wexford Street is buzzing. Ten minutes after doors, people are heard to be turned away due to capacity being reached. The quartet kick things off with a blistering version of the classic ‘Lazybird’ by John Coletrane. The sheer tone resonating from Blake’s instrument is a thing of beauty all on its own. The power, articulation and warmth to it immediately fills the whole room. The microphone is almost unnecessary. His playful and energetic nature comes out through his embellishment of the melody, and the band respond in kind. Brady’s kit bellows through the venue, and weaves exceptionally with Redmond’s thudding baselines. This is a masterclass in how to start a set if anything.
As the tunes flow, the energy in the room only gets higher. Halferty takes the reins now and then from Blake via a mesmerising solo or even just some high gain accompaniment. Watching musicians of this calibre engage in such a musical dialogue is a treat, the band themselves shooting giddy looks to another as they exchange riffs and lines in a sort of pass the parcel way. Our dynamic rhythm section for the evening shine through on ‘I Remember You’ through an impromptu set of drum trades. Watching the pair shoot each other intricate and powerful phrases, each more jaw dropping than the last, is like watching an intense game of tennis. Amazing.
Through the much varied setlist of the evening, we get a taster of Blake’s original compositions. The set highlight of ‘The Call’ is a truly tasteful example of modern jazz composing. His sax just sings here, with himself and Halferty exchanging graceful solo after graceful solo. The band sit in the pocket beautifully and sound as if they’ve been playing together for years. After an evening of top class tunes, and even a cover of Nirvana’s ‘In Bloom’, the band retire.
For such a small and concentrated niche in the music scene, Dublin is undoubtedly becoming a pretty hip place to be for live jazz. Although small, the talent and standard of its residents and visitors is impeccable. With crowds and respect for the artists like this, who can disagree?