The Phil Ware Trio At JJ Smyth’s – Review
For any fan of jazz in this country, one place is surely the Mecca of the genre, and it is located in an unassuming bar on Aungier Street. The place of course, is JJ Smyth’s. One of Ireland’s oldest bars, it has been a home to the Irish jazz scene and its fans for some time. Now sadly coming to an end of it’s tenure for gigs, a last hurrah for the Phil Ware Trio, perhaps the nation’s most notable contemporary jazz band promises to bid farewell to the establishment in style.
A remarkably busy crowd gather long before the gig starts, with much chatter about the two distinguished guests on horn duties for the evening. Spain’s Perico Sambeat and Sweden’s Anders Bergcrantz have never played together, or even met each other till this occasion, although both had played separately with Ware prior to tonight’s gig. In typical jazz fashion, the late start time is totally justified in the first few moments of the band’s explosive opening number. Perico and Anders both boast rather different approaches to their instruments, and produce two wonderfully unique voices that lead the familiar trio with gusto and confidence. Warm, raspy flourishes from Perico are lapped up by both band and crowd, and is responded to by Anders’ equally impressive piercing trumpet. The band aren’t messing around with foreplay, it’s straight to the good stuff with these guys.
Blues standard ‘Sonneymoon for Two’ sticks out as a high point in this half of the set, with the gritty, almost dirty licks being thrown around the stage proving to be exactly what the audience need. Charming interplay between the band shines through all the feats of technical impossibility, with Redmond and Ware sharing coy smiles every now and then before inevitably playing another outrageous solo. This comfortability reminds all in attendance just how seasoned these gents are.
As each tune trumps the last, there’s a real sense of excitement in the band. It never gets out of hand, yet teeters on the edge of chaos several times. Dave Redmond and Kevin Brady are a powerhouse of a rhythm section, and prove to be a more than capable engine for the two behemoth horn players on the front line. Ware himself shines in his supporting role at this point, constantly complimenting his guests’ playing with a real lyrical sensibility. To say he doesn’t have the chops his peers do however, would be a grave error. A quick look at the perplexed young faces in the front row during any of his graceful solos would beg to differ.
Although the five musicians have never all played together, they needn’t even look at each other to know when each has finished a solo or an idea. This musicianship is surely one that comes with a lifetime of experience, and it certainly shows. By the time of the interval, most are already fairly saturated with jazz epic-ness, but are rearing to go again after a quick breather. The band prove they can play it softer too, with a gorgeous rendition of ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’, perhaps best known for its performance by Chet Baker. This instrumental version however is tender and lyrical enough without the words. Thoughtful and gentle playing by Ware and Anders stand out the most, both exposing their musical personas more than anywhere else in the set. It’s also a nice change of pace to hear the rhythm section play so softly after a mostly relentless perfromance.
Amongst the stellar tunes on offer, Sambeat’s own tune, ‘Rabbit Dust’ gives the crowd another solid kick for good measure as the band hit its peak with blistering performances by all. Brady and Redmond once again shine as they go into overdrive for this monster of a tune.
As the gig comes to its conclusion, and more face melting performances by all are soaked in, Ware pays tribute to the venue, and makes us all feel very special indeed. The native Englishman, who has called this place his home since 2000 gives the place a fitting sending off before launching into the last tune of the evening.
There’s a collective feeling of bittersweetness as the crowd sheepishly disperse and reflect on what they’d just observed. While the gig was nigh flawless, and a perfect goodbye to the symbolic pub, it can’t help but be said that gigs like this should never stop running. Generations of keen jazzers called this place their home for a long time, and it’s all because of a cool cat called JJ Smyth.