Despite its name, the New Irish Jazz Orchestra includes several UK players, such as Ryan Quigley, Steve Fishwick, Paul Boothand trombonist Chris Dean, along with Northern Ireland trumpeter Linley Hamilton and Cork-based South African altoist Chris Engel. Directed by Cork native Paul Dunlea, the ensemble had not only punch and precision but attention to dynamics, as well as some striking solos, for instance from Fishwick and Quigley (also responsible for most of the lead playing). Of the more conventional big-band part of the programme, for instance works by Slide Hampton and Ronan Guilfoyle, there was perhaps an item too many, given the promise of a most unusual guest artist.
I’ve often thought of Martin Hayes as the Wynton Marsalis of Irish traditional fiddle playing. Now associated with supergroup The Gloaming, he’s the son of a revered musician and, in his duo with Jim Hall-like Dennis Cahill, became a focus of debates about innovation versus consolidation. His distinctively individual style was immediately evident with his first entrance, a straight/ornamented rendition of ‘The Lark In The Clear Air’, followed by Dunlea’s score featuring his trombone backed by the brass choir. The next item, based on ‘Si Beag Si Mor’, had the soloist surrounded by expansively rhapsodic piano from arranger Cormac McCarthy, while Hayes’s closing set (again arranged by Dunlea) climaxed on a magical exchange with the fiddle’s melodic phrases answered by Booth’s questing tenor. Having never performed with a big-band before, Hayes pronounced himself very happy with the result, as were the audience.