Ward at Kelly’s

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It is tempting to view the arc of Caroline Ward’s development as meteoric, as she took to painting relatively late. Something in spate was lurking: the lava of her imagination was waiting for an eruption, as Byron might have said.

What was the catalyst? A gift as pressing and as defined and as articulate as hers’ cannot be suppressed indefinitely. Each still life in her first solo show at Kelly’s Resort Hotel will never elicit the same response. A Caroline Ward still life is a state of poise which runs deep. For, in this collection, these are paintings that you study.

Why is that?

The mackerel on the plate, evidently gutted, are at the end of their line. Memento mori perhaps? Yet we don’t inhale the stench of death. The sensation, at first, is purely visual.

Perhaps we marvel at the unobtrusiveness of their existence, irrespective of their condition. The egg is an open invitation to a response that is visceral: something so fragile, and yet so tactile.

The assembled bottles are a theatre of visual relationships, with the intensity of perfect harmony. Her interiors might appear as a distinct genre in this show, but the invitation by Caroline is the same: each work is the synthesis of her inner experience.

I think curiosity and questioning explains Caroline’s love of abstract art, for example, but still life is her calling. It is her duchas and her duende.

I believe it is a folly to define an appreciation of her work as solely clinically detached or calculatingly forensic, like planets with their own orbits.

Her paintings are rooted in her inner experience. Which is what, precisely?

Like Ed Hopper and Vilhelm Hammershoi, Caroline is a fellow traveller of how their subjects are harmonised with feeling.

There is naturally an obsession with the engagement of realism, but what is emphasised is separateness, not common ground.

The single mackerel on the plate offers two narratives: is Caroline stablizing the impression, or recording its transience? Be warned. To own a Caroline Ward is to engage in an eternal conversation about the meaning of still life. However, the means will always justify the end.

Ironically, what we can find in her depiction of the ordinary is how the discontinuities of everyday life must be matched by the consistencies of the artist. Often drawn to the unremarkable, Caroline inhabits the space between tranquillity and the tautness of a moment: within and without each painting is a continuance of an ancient tradition, the artist beckoning us to question our assumptions about the work.

It is curious that when I bracket Caroline with other artists, they are not Irish: there is the Dane, Hammershoi, the Italian Morandi and the Americans Hopper and Andrew Wyeth. Still life is a discipline that is unforgiving, where every stroke of the brush is a gamble. Your eye will not permit a mistake.

There is in a still life the momentum of tension: the fruit and the mackerel are in a state of repose, but nature is always about conquest.

If you can avoid the temptation to view her work as images of visible fact, then you can enter the atmosphere of the artist, and grasp her capacity to perceive.

Caroline is equally interested in what is not immediately visible, or discerning: the profound depth of the unknown outside and beyond the two windows in the bathroom interior. Providing a portal to what is not visible is an enduring strength of Caroline’s interiors, where light has more than a walk-on role. It defines space.

How refreshing that in the age of the confessional, Caroline is an anomaly. Her collection as a whole is the poetry of silence. The restrained elegance of her movement does not dampen its quiet power. Her work is the flotilla of a storm passing on the horizon.

Her emotional range is broad, from the poetic suggestiveness of what is beyond the interior, to the smouldering lightness of being of the objet trouve, such as the study of a bowl, or the bottles, or the tonal subtlety in depicting the domestic flotsam of everyday life: familiar, yet stripped of identity.

Her subjects are therefore not intended to be remarkable – not dressed to impress – but they are a reminder that the definition of still life is always rooted in the Italian, natura morta: the sound phonetically mirrors the meaning.

Whether it is fallen fruit or dead fish or a lemon suspended in water, the handling of the paint has as much contemplative importance as the inspiration. We can only imagine the long gestation of the synthesis of her inner experience, before the brush is summoned, and the easel fixed.

A falconer’s skill depends on their dexterity with the thin leather jesses: we see the bird, but the trick of the falconer is pretending not to be there. So too with Caroline Ward: we are surrounded by her presence, when the artist has long since left the room.

The quality of her natura morta, therefore, is ageless.

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Anat Cohen

 

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The prolific Anat Cohen – celebrated the world over for her expressive virtuosity and infectious charisma – has never been more inspired, onstage and on record. Since 2005, Anat’s series of releases via her Anzic Records label have seen the clarinetist/saxophonist range from hard-swinging to lilting balladry, from small groups to larger ensembles and back again, exploring a universe of music along the way.

Anat’s latest release and third this year, Happy Song, sees her drawing on diverse musical loves, from Brazilian music to African grooves, from vintage swing to touching ballads. She also explores Klezmer for the first time on record, perhaps surprising for a musician raised in Tel Aviv and long resident in Brooklyn.

The new vehicle for these explorations is the Anat Cohen Tentet, a group of ace New York musicians that made its debut at the Jazz Standard in Manhattan and the famed Newport Jazz Festival.

Above all, Happy Song is another synergistic collaboration between Anat and co-producer/co-arranger Oded Lev-Ari, who is also her partner in Anzic as well as a kindred spirit since their high-school days in Israel.

Anat has been declared Clarinetist of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association every year since 2007, and she has also been named the top clarinetist in both the readers and critics polls in DownBeat Magazine, the jazz bible, for multiple years running.

Matt Mitchell

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A Pouting Grimace is the audacious new release from pianist/composer Matt Mitchel who has established himself as a composer of bold distinction.

Substantial in scope, the album, which features twelve musicians: five woodwinds, four percussionists, harp, bass, and the leader on piano, Prophet 6, and electronics, weaves an intricate web of off-kilter rhythms and logical frenzy.

Produced by the acclaimed guitarist/composer David Torn, the work is completely beyond genre, a daring tour de force that headily mines the interstice between precision-plotted compositions and the thrill of improvisation.

Highly regarded among the jazz cognoscenti, Mitchell is a first-call for musicians seeking a pianist able to deal with the most demanding complex material. He is a charter member of saxophonist Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, who just released their fourth album, Incidentals, and Mitchell also interpreted Berne’s compositions on Forage, released earlier in 2017.

He’s a great example of the 21st-Century musician: versed in the musical lessons of the past, present, and poised to help move the development of jazz music forward.A Pouting Grimace takes Mitchell’s music to a whole other level, featuring ensemble pieces bursting with intricate detail interwoven with solo electronic interludes.

The idea was borne out of his desire to try composing music with a fresh instrumental palette, one heavy on the convoluted interlocution between the various woodwinds and percussion.

Each of the group compositions is derived from a kernel of an idea – listen carefully and you can probably figure it out. While entirely plotted out, the compositions leaves room for frequent and varied layers of improvisation, all in service of the overall arrangements.

Bayntun’s

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In the age of the kindle, bibliophiles must constitute a dying breed, and yet their favourite haunts are, in some cases, easily a century or two old, and still flourishing. I have spent cherished afternoons hunting in O’Gara and Wilson in Chicago, in Hatchards in London, in College Street Boi Para in Calcutta and, most recently, Bayntun’s in Bath, one of the world’s leading antiquarian bookshops. It is in the labyrinthine basement where I have found poetic jewels in the past, and this time was no exception: first editions of Cal Lowlell’s The Dolphin and Theodore Roethke’s The Far Field, for just £5 and £10 a piece. And, because it is Bayntun’s, in excellent condition

Denys Baptiste

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Five decades after his early death, we don’t need a specific anniversary to appraise the legacy of John Trane, and there are any mount of recordings – live and studio – that continue to surface on an annual basis. Some good and some bad, a combination of inferior live recordings and Trane over soloing and pushing boundaries,  already exhausted.

But Trane is Trane, and more so than many of his collaborators – Miles, for example – his work continues to inspire exploration and interpretation across the entire fulcrum of jazz.

If I had to recommend a recent release which balances the vision of the interpreter and the visceral and cosmic references of the original, Denys Baptiste is your only man. The Late Trane sounds fresh, as if it was recorded yesterday, and that’s because Baptise doesn’t cut corners and has a stellar band that is firing on all cylinders – Nikki Yeoh, Neil Charles and Rod Youngs.

The Late Trane has ten tracks, all bar two by Coltrane, with Neptune and Astral Trane by Baptiste, and they are at home here because Baptiste has maintained the Coltrane template, while adding his own garnishes and, thankfully, he feels the music.

What is special is that Baptiste has assemble an extraordinary band that illustrates  how musicians from London’s multi-cultural music scene have undergone a similar journey to Trane, though not as cosmic, and on The Late Trane, with well know compositions like Ascent and After The Rain, we have Coltrane filtered by the global sound of London, so expect folk, reggae and funk.

Improbable Renditions

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American photographer Ming Smith is better known for her portraits of Nina Simone and Alvin Ailey – black cultural figures in American at a time of widespread social unrest  (what has changed?) – and a snippet of her forty year career, with the subjects captured in a state between distortion and definition, can be seen at The Serpentine Gallery in London. If you make it, why not saunter after to the nearby Frank Hurley exhibition in The Royal Geographical Society.

And creatures dream

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Segueing several decades of visual art in Wexford are veteran Gillian Deeney (left), now decamped to Tinahely in the wilds of South Wicklow, and Serena Caulfield, decamped from Rosslare to the wilds of Ballyhealy. They are pictured examining three original Caulfields in Wexford Co. Council at the excellent two venue show, comprising 13 artists, curated by Catherine Bowe and Helen Gaynor.

Conor Cafe

 

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A war artist who seems somewhat to have been sidelined by recent centenial commemorations of the Great War is William Conor, although the Ulster Museum has the single biggest collection of his work. That’s good news if you happen to be in Belfast, and peckish. Opposite the Ulster Museum is the actual studio Conor worked in for almost 15 years, and it is now a café, illuminated by the light from the lantern roof. Conor survived the Great War and indeed lived until 1968, but it is the work of another Belfast institution, Neil Shawcross, which currently adorns the walls of Conor Café.

Joe Neal

 

Tom & Joe Neal at his launch of his book The Next Blue Note in The Book Shop Wexford (Copy)

I know of few poets who are as prolific as Joe Neal. The conclusion of one volume is the stepping stone to another. He moves between different worlds so fluidly, so seamlessly.

He is deeply knowledgeable, and neither his observation nor his curiosity has been diminished by the passage of time.

Joe doesn’t forget easily, and so when this current run of books began some years ago, and this is volume number five, Joe had a treasure trove of content.

And if this trove had chapter headings, I would suggest music, nature, the past and above all, love. It is curious why a writer as gifted as Joe, with a voluminous command of the language, should choose poetry and not prose.

The answer might be in his Welsh roots, where the cadence is unlike anywhere else: swagger, pulsation, Biblical, metaphorical. I think this caution or caveat by Dylan Thomas to the first cast of Under Milk Wood in New York, ‘to love the words’, is imprinted on Joe.

Why poetry and not prose for this seducer of words? Readers demand of prose that a subject is developed completely and logically, from A to B etc. It moves like a hot air balloon.

But from poetry we demand leaping from A to Z, implying everything. No walking, but flying. No hot air balloons, but a shooting star. Explosive, and brief. And as fog leaves no scar on the landscape it invades, so too poetry.

While metre and form and rhythm are the building blocks of a poem, the blueprint, without which there would be no beginning or end, is truth. If a poem is alive and is true, it connects with the touchstone of the life within us.

That is the only tuning fork you need. Acute vision, acute memory, acute use of words.

The New York Standards Quarter

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Sleight of Hand

It’s now approaching twelve years since the New York Standards Quartet  came into being, its core personnel taking time out from their multifarious individual projects to revel in the shared brief of refashioning familiar and lesser- known jazz standards.

Their new release Sleight of Hand builds on their catalogue of five previous albums (most recently, The New Straight Ahead and Power of 10, on Whirlwind) as saxophonist Tim Armacost, pianist David Berkman and drummer Gene Jackson welcome double bassist Daiki Yasukagawa back into the fold.

This is a band that regularly plays and performs together, so there’s a common bond, which brings out the best in the arrangements they conjure.

Recorded at the end of an international tour – in the beautiful, mountainous location of Lake Yamanaka, close to Mount Fuji (the quartet enjoys a special affinity with Japan) – Sleight of Hand’s eight numbers reflect the band’s spontaneous, transformational approach, with the title track (based on Gershwin’s ‘But Not For Me’) irresistibly playful.

The various key modulations in Lover Man are a world away from Billie Holiday’s lingering vocal lines as Armacost’s spritely soprano responds swiftly to Jackson’s syncopated drum accents.

1940s song Detour Ahead – perhaps mostly familiar in composer Herb Ellis’s guitar setting – translates into a luscious tenor and piano-led ballad, sensitively buoyed by Yasukagawa’s bass shaping; Jules Styne/Sammy Cahn favourite I Fall In Love Too Easily is treated to sparkling, percussion-led animation; and Armacost’s rich tenor lyricism in Duke Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood is ravishingly restrained.

Mal Waldron’s Soul Eyes and Thelonious Monk’s Ask Me Now swing with respective vibrancy and jauntiness, while the metrical changes and perky rhythms of ‘This I Dig of You’ pick up on Hank Mobley’s classic Blue Note album origins.

And though the quartet likes to pull out obscure tunes, it’s also important to include touchstones for you can relate to them emotionally and there’s still a lot of awareness there. These are such great melodies, you can do almost anything with them – and, as always with improvisation, that sense of ‘what’s happening today?’ remains exciting. It’s all about a moment with Sleight of Hand.