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Preview: Brian Irvine Ensemble @ Brilliant Corners Jazz Festival


It was at last year’s Brilliant Corners when the Brian Irvine Ensemble ended their 6-year hiatus, and for good reason. Irvine cuts a singular figure not just in Northern Irish music, but worldwide, as one who embodies the spirit of the perpetually open-minded Brilliant Corners and all that jazz music encompasses, by pushing ever forward, with only a slight glance at anything that preceded. 

The ensemble comprises around a dozen in number, drawn from varying backgrounds of contemporary classical, jazz & improvised music in Europe & Russia. As with many of artists comprising the Brilliant Corners 2019 lineup, their performances give themselves entirely over to neither formless improvisation nor rigid composition, but rather are a masterclass in the art of a breathing, unified performance.

The plaudits and chops of Irvine and his ensemble are inarguable, and eclectic; The Washington Post said his ensemble was “Some of the most exhilarating and imaginative music you’ll ever hope to hear……musical play in the highest sense: exuberant, spontaneous and irresistibly alive”, and awards include two British Composers Awards, a BBC Jazz Award for Best New Work, Major Individual Artist Award from the Northern Ireland Arts Council, Paul Hamlyn Composers Award, even being named as the first Music Laureate for the City of Belfast in 2015. He has collaborated with artists across almost every discipline, from Seamus Heaney, to Japanese noise musician Keiji Haino, to David Holmes.

As he’s described, his music often takes the form of super-structures that see collisions between multiple performers, conductors or orchestras. Indeed, today’s daytime performance in Derry saw new music showcased that, while based on set frameworks, had Irvine invite audience members to conduct alongside himself. Its execution could be as comparable to 70s Zappa or Captain Beefheart as it could be to European master Han Bennink and his Instant Composers Pool, whereby feats of musicianship are punctuated by joyous revelry.

A core tenet of Irvine’s approach to the ensemble is the placement of trust in the personality of each location and musician to shine through, without being precious about hitting any points, leading to truly liberated music; improvisation that holds on to its musicality, musicians forced to run with the composition, evading the constant string of obstacles placed in their path. In “challenging the diehards”, the Brian Irvine Ensemble is laying foundations for the future.

The Brian Irvine Ensemble play the Black Box tomorrow night – Wednesday, March 6 – with a very limited number of tickets remaining available here, priced £14, or £10 concession. 

This date kicks off a short all-Ireland tour for the ensemble, which takes in Dolan’s on Thursday, March 7, The Button Factory on Friday, March 8 & Navan’s Solstice Arts Centre this Saturday, March 9.

is Gig Guide Editor & guitarist/vocalist with Junk Drawer, PigsAsPeople & Sister Ghost. Appreciator of Neil Young, vinyl, black coffee, Richard Linklater, light & shade.