FESTIVAL REVIEW: Blue-Eyed Hawk at the 2015 Manchester Jazz Festival

Blue-Eyed Hawk at the Manchester Jazz Festival
Clockwise from top left: Lauren Kinsella, Laura Jurd,
Corrie Dick, Alex Roth. Photo credit Adrian Pallant

REVIEW: Blue-Eyed Hawk 
(Manchester Jazz Festival, 5 August 2015. Review by Adrian Pallant)

The twinkle in the eye of vocalist Lauren Kinsella at the opening of Blue-Eyed Hawk’s hour-long set at Manchester Jazz Festival hinted at the entertainment about to follow. Certainly not fledgling musicians (recently appearing at Suedtirol and Love Supreme Festivals), the members of this relatively young line-up are already established in a variety of contemporary jazz projects. But right from their early social media teasers, it was clear that something rather special was about to take flight.

Kinsella and colleagues – Laura Jurd (trumpet/keys), Alex Roth (guitar) and Corrie Dick (drums) – have founded their creative outpourings on literary themes; the band name originates from a line in W B Yeats’ poem which also became the title of their debut album, Under the Moon, released in 2014 on Edition Records to critical acclaim (link to review below).

In Manchester, their rapport with an intrigued late-afternoon festival gathering was quickly established as audience members shouted out their enthusiasm, with Kinsella amiably reciprocating in her warm Dublin tones. If you haven’t heard Blue-Eyed Hawk, their sound is pleasingly cross-genre, blending jazz improvisation with carefully-structured artisan songs imbued with folk and driving rock – and it’s that unlikeliness which perhaps is the key to their distinction.

In concert, they keep the attention with both unpredictability and consummate musicianship – every detail is upheld with accuracy and clarity. Kinsella is a spellbinding singer (and keyboardist), shifting from the fascinating, subtle theatricality of nonsense/baby-talk which then erupts into hysterical exuberance before resting into impeccably-held sustained lines. Her open communication with Laura Jurd is evident, with the trumpeter supporting on synth and vocals whilst delivering blistering brass extemporisations – as in their equally mystic and rocky Spiderton.

Guitarist Alex Roth’s lynchpin role is exhilarating to witness as clanging chords give way to pictorialisations of mist-smothered Irish landscapes, heart-stoppingly sustained by hand-held Ebow in a musical interpretation of Yeats’ poem O Do Not Love Too Long; and his own folksy, guitar-led Try To Turn Back is as carefree as a Summer’s day (“Remember the time you took me away… and my life was just about to unfold in a way that I could never have known”). Corrie Dick is the perfect drummer/percussionist for this fertile environment, colouring each piece with precision, complex rhythms/techniques and visible enjoyment.

The quartet also played music from their exciting BBC Jazz on 3 commission In the Shadow of Kafka (first broadcast in May 2015) which is inspired by the work of renowned Czech writer Frank Kafka – notably a piece entitled Strange Animal (half kitten, half lamb) – and Roth told me it may well become an album release in the future.

To close, the band’s driving, visceral rock-out Somewhere revealed Edgar Harburg’s familiar lyric set to their original music (“Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there’s a land that I’ve heard of once in a lullaby”) with some unsuspecting audience members involuntarily breaking into approving laughter – an effect which epitomises Blue Eyed Hawk’s unconventional appeal. An absorbing, over-too-soon performance from a brilliantly original British quartet.

LINKS: CD Review of Under the Moon
Review of an early Blue-Eyed Hawk gig in September 2012

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