Sligo Jazz Festival later this month includes a special double bill featuring the Kenny Werner trio and the premiere of a specially commissioned new work 'The Barinthus Suite'. To be performed at the Hawks Well theatre in Sligo on Thursday 18 July the work has been written by drummer-composer David Lyttle and bassist-composer Eddie Lee, director of the Sligo Jazz Festival, and is named after the ancient Celtic god of the sea and water, and in a neat touch actually written in Sligo. The piece is a fusion of Celtic, jazz and hip hop influences and features, alongside Lyttle on drums and Lee on double bass, the great US pianist and educator Kenny Werner, and soloists including Jean Toussaint, Mike Nielsen, and other special guests such as piper/low whistler Tyler Duncan (from The Olllam), and bodhrán master John Joe Kelly. “We wrote the suite with megalithic Sligo in mind,” David Lyttle says, “as well as landmarks such as the ‘Waiting on the Shore’ statue at Rosses Point.”

The ‘Waiting on the Shore’ statue 

The challenge the pair faced in writing 'The Barinthus Suite', Lyttle says was a specific one. “We wanted to merge folk and jazz in a non-technical way, using the more soulful elements which define each genre. This took some time, but the main aim and challenge was to capture the atmosphere of the era which inspired the suite.” Part of the writing process was to locate themselves in Sligo, but not just anywhere. The pair went to Coney Island, off county Sligo’s wild Atlantic coast. Its 400 rabbit-packed acres now only has a tiny population but the place is steeped in legend, with a faerie ring and the mysterious St Patrick’s wishing chair caught up in the island's rich folklore. Lyttle says: “We spent a few days on Coney Island, and visited the mainland location where ‘megalithic man’ created the dune of oyster shells at Culleenamore. This inspired the movement ‘I Am An Oyster Eater’.

The suite written for saxophone, piano, guitar, low whistle, banjo, accordion, bass, drums, and bodhrán followed the impetus taken by the Sligo Jazz Festival to commission new music for this year’s festival. “The Hawk's Well theatre has been hosting SJP concerts for some time and were keen to commission new music for the 2013 festival,” Lyttle says. “Eddie Lee is a great musician and writer but as director of the festival isn't normally as involved in this way. I’ve been involved with the festival for four years and brought many of my touring projects to Sligo outside of the festival. It seemed like a nice idea to pair us together. We have common ground in our backgrounds as musicians: Eddie in folk, jazz and rock; mine in folk, jazz and urban.”

Lyttle, who’s 29 and from the village of Waringstown in county Down, is now best known for his band Interlude and his collaborations with saxophonist/MC Soweto Kinch. In performance Lyttle's style can encompass the innovations of a drummer like Brian Blade and Lyttle favours that loose beyond-the-barline polyrhythmic way attached to much advanced contemporary jazz expression grounded in post bop. Yet he also has an ear for more urban directions and styles such as broken beats, favoured by the likes of Richard Spaven and Graham Godfrey.

Lyttle has written extended work before including in his Dark Tales project music inspired by Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe. He explains: “Other suites I’ve written have been inspired by literature, stories rather than a time or a physical object. In this one it’s been more about capturing an atmosphere than telling a story.” Working in tandem with Lee, Lyttle highlights their strengths: “We share a lot of the same passions for music and are generally pro-active people who try our best to make things happen. Eddie is great at writing melodies and bass lines.” In terms of Lyttle's approach to the technical demands of composing he says: “I’ve always taken a more basic approach to writing. I don't allow things to get overly elaborate or complex. This approach works well in this context because there's much more room for improvisation.”
Stephen Graham

The Sligo jazz festival runs from 16-21 July. For more information and tickets go to