THE Jazz Festival has always been one that encourages and rewards musical experimentation.
Artists are free to push their boundaries, collaborating with contemporaries on unique offerings that can leave an audience baffled, bewildered and besotted, often all at once.
2018 is shaping up to be no different.
In a specially commissioned show — a first for the festival — St Luke’s Church will be transformed by a blend of striking visuals and jazz.
‘Unity’ is the latest work from David Duffy, one of the country’s most prolific and versatile acts. It is the headlining show of the 2018 Jazz Fringe Festival in Cork, a part of the festival where ‘the most interesting things happen’, according to the organisers.
For David, ‘Unity’ is the culmination of a long held ambition to put his own stamp on the Cork Jazz Festival. Based in the city since 2002 when he moved from Waterford to attend UCC, David is deeply embedded in the Cork music scene.
Though he spends a lot of time in Barcelona now, he still keeps close contact with many of those at the heart of the Cork music scene.
This includes musicians Jack O’Rourke, Marlene Enright and Niall McCabe, all of whom he has played with in recent years.
He said the collaborative spirit that has emerged in Cork in recent years is driving creativity on Leeside.
“It is such a vibrant scene now,” he said.
“I feel like everyone just grew up and realised that our music has value. And, because of that, we were all happy to help each other out and to collaborate: that collaborative spirit is incredible. We are all in the same game and it is reaping rewards.”
Among the rewards of that collaboration is a selection of more innovative, more imaginative and more unusual releases and recordings.
Among these is ‘Unity’, a festival first for the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival. It was specially commissioned by new festival director Sinead Dunphy, keen to put her own stamp on proceedings.
“I approached her with the idea and she was really supportive,” David said.
“She is just tenacious and wanted to make it a really special festival. Even when we couldn’t get Arts Council funding, she just said ‘let’s make it anyway.’”
It is not the first eye-catching endeavour that David has undertaken in the city over the years.
As one-half of production company Eat My Noise, he was involved in developing new commissions for the Sounds from a Safe Harbour festival and for several iterations of the Cork Midsummer festival. They tackled St Fin Barre’s Cathedral and the former Christchurch, now part of the Triskel Arts Centre.
Next up, it is St Luke’s Church.
And, rather than approaching this as a normal jazz or orchestral show, David has cooked up something else entirely.
“It has always been our approach to shows is to incorporate visuals with music, especially with genres of music which may not have typically been put to a lights show,” he said.
“It is more of a Nine Inch Nails or a Radiohead show: an all-encompassing performance. For me, it was just a question: why not have a visual aspect to a show? Why just watch people play?
“For jazz, the visual side of things was never important. That is where I am coming from with this.”
The shows blend elements of AV, sound and texture, often together but often separately, too. At times in the show, it will be a standalone musical experience. At others, it will be more focused on the visual elements.
David said it is ‘hard to pigeonhole’ what he was going for in a show built around jazz, contemporary classical music and electronica, with 4K microscopic projections, a light show and a live jazz quarter, all complete with a grand piano on the stage of St Luke’s Church.
It is about creating an experience for an audience, as well as a show.
David said that it comes from his theatre background. “When you go to a theatre performance, you disappear into a world for an hour,” he said. At a concert, it is stop-start: a song followed by some chat and a song.
“I was thinking about to jolt an audience, how to create something special, unique rather than just song, song, song. I wanted this to be transformational.”
‘Unity’ is based around the typical jazz quartet of double bass, piano, drums and saxophone. The musicians on board are some of the best around, too.
David has assembled an impressive international lineup to present this music.
British film composer Tom Hodge is Cork based but is more known in the internationally music community for his film scores. Recently, he has written music for ‘McMafia’ and has collaborated as a pianist with the likes of Max Cooper, Floex and Piano Interrupted.
Swedish saxophonist Emil Nerstrand approaches the saxophone in a completely unique way, embracing both the avant grade and ambient simultaneously while drummer Davie Ryan is one of the most in demand drummers in country, performing with names such as Marlene Enright, John Blek, Notify, Sup, Paul Dunlea, and Anna Mitchell.
Combined with this ensemble, Barcelona based visual artist Jan Barcelo has created new visual projections for ‘Unity’, with surrealist microscopic projections set to take on a new life on the night.
It is an eclectic mix and one that is sure to leave an impression in an event unlike any other on the programme for this year’s Jazz Festival.
David Duffy's 'Unity' will headline the fringe programme of this years Guinness Cork Jazz Festival. The show takes place at St Luke’s Church on Friday, October 26, at 8.30pm. Tickets are €20 and are available from www.uticket.ie.