By Keith Baker

Sunday 28 October, 4pm: Just off the train. Straight into the Metropole.  Straight out again. The place is packed to the doors. Plenty of music going on but you can’t hear any of it over the noise of “the cráic”. So down the street to Gallagher’s pub where we discover festival artist-in-residence Paul Dunlea leading a hard-driving sextet composed of himself on trombone, two tenors and rhythm section. They roar into ‘Secret Love’. They’re shouting it from the highest hills, all right. 

We’ve come to Cork for the Festival’s not-to-be missed performance by the Maria Schneider Orchestra at the City Hall. In fact, Paul Dunlea made the acquaintance of the great composer and orchestra leader earlier in the day. He tells me later, “I took her to Kinsale for a bowl of soup. She’s great.” 

It’s Schneider’s first time in Ireland and a real feather in the cap of the new Festival director Sinéad Dunphy. This is an outfit studded with some of the finest soloists in today’s jazz – like Rich Perry, Ben Monder, Brandon Lee, Scott Robinson and Donny McCaslin. 

There have been mutterings about duff sound at the City Hall for some previous acts but there can be no complaints on this occasion. The auditorium fills up with the great burnished sweep of Schneider’s music but it also carries the delicacy of some of the quieter moments. 

The evening begins with a blistering ‘That Old Black Magic,’ featuring Rich Perry on tenor, but it is the uniquely American grandeur of The Thompson Fields, the masterpiece album which evokes the vast landscapes of her Minnesota upbringing, that people have come to hear. And they are not disappointed.

There is also new, as yet unrecorded, material for which Schneider provides helpful explanations.  She is fearful of the perils of the information age. One piece is apparently named after the motto of Google, ‘Don’t be Evil,’ which she says is “setting the bar a bit low.” It’s doom-laden, a bit Halloweeny-scary, and there is a similar sense of menace in ‘Data Lords’ later in the programme. 

Also memorable — Donny McCaslin front and centre for an extended solo on the exotic ‘Birds of Paradise’ with Scott Robinson exploring the outer limits of the baritone. And it’s this inventive use of instrumentation that adds unique seasoning to Schneider’s sound. There’s an accordion in this orchestra, for heaven’s sake, and when did you last see a saxophone section suddenly become four flutes and a clarinet? 

But our night is not over. Next it’s off to the Opera House, via a few watering holes, where Sachal Vasandani and his trio are doing a midnight show in the Green Room. Actually, it turns out to be a quarter-to-one show because of various hiccups but it doesn’t matter. It was worth waiting for. 

The trio is Taylor Eigsti (keyboards various), Josh Ginsburg (bass) and Jeremy Dutton (drums). And surprise, surprise – Paul Dunlea is sitting in as well. In fact, he will also be guesting with Sachal’s big band in New York in a few weeks. 

Vasandani is a terrific singer, post-Elling, you might say. There are novel approaches to standards like ‘I Love Paris,’ ‘I Concentrate on You’ and ‘Unforgettable,’ but there is also an Abbey Lincoln song, ‘Throw It Away,’ and an interpretation of the Bill Evans composition ‘Very Early.’ 

Very early it is not but still, it might be worth looking in at the Metropole to see what’s happening. And, lo and behold, here’s Scott Flanigan and guests at the late-night jam.