Mehldau hits high note in a year of tributes
Looking back over an active year, one name floats to the top: Brad Mehldau. His solo concert in the National Concert Hall on September 14 found him back on form, with his lean years behind him. Beginning with a series of very intense, complex and busy numbers, he then slowed down and went into lyrical mode with standards such as Blackbird and I Fall In Love Too Easily.
Tributes to the greats of the past were a feature of 2011. Here the palm must go to the American vibraphonist Tony Miceli, who paid homage to the Modern Jazz Quartet in JJ Smyth's. Mallets flying all over the vibes, he evoked the spirit of Milt Jackson, with the support of Phil Ware, Dan Bodwell and John Daly.
Also in JJ's, Alex Mathias (tenor and soprano sax) surpassed himself in an outstanding tribute to John Coltrane, with Myles Drennan (piano), Tommy Gray (drums) and Dan Callaghan (double bass). So-Young Yoon, a pianist from South Korea, led her own sextet in a homage to Thelonious Monk in the John Field Room. In the same venue, the Bill Blackmore Sextet rose to the challenge of playing Dizzy Gillespie. Unfortunately, I missed Linley Hamilton's highly praised tribute to Chet Baker, but I did catch Evan Christopher's lovely Django a la Creole in the Mermaid.
On the vocal front, Dianne Reeves held the NCH audience spellbound at the end of November. Earlier in the year we heard Tina May, who enjoyed a great rapport with the Phil Ware Trio. Among Irish singers, the best newcomer was Colette Henry, while Honor Heffernan remains the best of the lot.
Ian Shaw reigned supreme as male vocalist at the Cork Jazz Festival, which also gave us the Bobby Watson All-Stars in splendid form. The amazing American trombonist Marshall Gilkes was the big sensation at the Sligo Jazz Project. Added to all these were gigs by Isotope, the teenage guitarist Andreas Varady and the Dublin City Jazz Orchestra.