Posted by: Ian Briggs on 31st May 2012 at 6:59 pm
It is not often that world-class musicians visit Northern Ireland, so when the opportunity arose to see one of the very best clarinettists close to home, I couldn’t afford to miss out.
Direct from New Orleans, Evan Christopher played a concert in the North Down Museum in Bangor, where an audience of almost one hundred people turned out to see him.
In a previous blog post I wrote a review of his last visit to Northern Ireland in 2010, in what was a great gig at the Black Box in Belfast. This time he returned with the same group of stunning musicians: David Blenkhorn on guitar, Dave Kelbie on rhythm guitar, and Sebastien Girardot on bass.
The playing was top class: beautiful interactions between the instruments, virtuosic playing from all the ensemble members and repertoire that was a mixture of slow, romantic songs (including one with Christopher singing vocals which was a nice interlude in the programme) contrasted with full-on, high-energy rhythms.
The solos were inventive in their style, but also full of that blues roots that screams New Orleans jazz. I also particularly enjoyed the fact that the performance did not follow the usual jazz format, in that the solos were mixed up and seemed to blend into one another seamlessly.
Christopher’s clarinet playing is sublime; a breathy, sultry low range lifts into a vibrant mid range and the clarity and ease with which he hits the very top notes is just amazing. As with all pro musicians, he has an incredible ability to make the most difficult things looks very easy, and this is true of the rest of the group: David Blenkhorn’s guitar playing is subtle when playing with the others, and yet he produces brilliantly crafted solos when needed. Similarly the rhythm guitar playing of Dave Kelbie is so relaxed but provides that solid straight-ahead percussive ‘beat’ that drives the music forward, and is backed up by some fantastic bass playing from Sebastien Girardot who manages to create a rich, resonant sound and include some percussive slap-bass technique that gives his solos a difference dimension.
It was another fantastic gig from this quartet and a great opportunity for people to hear this unique sound. I have embedded a YouTube video of the group below, which is well worth a listen. Check out this fabulous group if you ever get the chance.