Thursday, 28 May 2015

MUSIC REVIEW: City Of Derry Jazz And Big Band Festival 2015

Reviews of two events at this year's jazz extravaganza in the former City Of Culture


When South Carolina-born, Lisburn-based songstress Dana Masters first emerged on stage, we already sense we're in for an evening as cheery, warm and welcoming as the smile on her face.

That is most definitely the case at Derry-Londonderry's Millennium Forum, briefly transformed into an electrically soulful and eclectically jazzy arena by Masters' spine-tingling, spirit-lifting vocals. Assisted by top notch NI trumpeter Linley Hamilton, a committed ensemble of keys, guitar, brass and rhythm, and a series of humorous interludes, this is a powerful and passionate display of musical virtuosity.

The evening is a positive vocal workout for the central performer, her early elegance paving the way for a confident thunderousness that, by concert's end, ensures that feet are stamping, hands are clapping and heads are nodding.

To pardon the pun, this Dana really is all kinds of everything.


Jamie Cullum and Derry-Londonderry have a special relationship. Jamming with a school choir and filming a radio documentary in these parts had previously endeared the versatile jazz-pop musician to the locals. Now Cullum returns for his first ever live show in Derry-Londonderry.

It begins with one-time Cullum collaborators the St. Mary's College choir asserting themselves triumphantly with a literal cabaret of pop, opera and show tunes.

Then, the pint-sized Rochford dynamo delectably transcends the "piano man" image, his confidence spreading to both his backing band and the audience themselves. It is hard to imagine a performer more in sync with the City Of Derry Jazz And Big Band Festival in its recent history. Cullum's anecdotes, in-crowd solos and general charisma go down a treat, as do his seamless, nimble switching between tempos, genres, instruments and performing styles. He is equally at home as a pianist, drummer, singer or human beatbox.

This is a performance for the ages. Let's hope it's not too long before Cullum once again adorns this cultured city with his presence.

(The original versions of these reviews were published in the North West edition of the Belfast Telegraph on May 4-5, 2015.)