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by Ian Mann

January 01, 2015


A highly accomplished guitar trio album with a great rapport among the musicians.

Tommy Halferty Trio


The Dublin based musician Tommy Halferty is recognised as one of Ireland’s leading jazz guitarists. Born in Derry he has been musically active since the late 1970s following studies with that other great Irish guitar player, Louis Stewart. Halferty’s impressive CV is too lengthy to list in full here but an extensive overview of his career can be found on his website

Halferty is a versatile musician who has played in a variety of jazz contexts as well as collaborating with a group of French folk musicians as part of the band Ogham. Indeed many of Halferty’s collaborations have been international affairs and he has worked with some of the biggest names in jazz including saxophonists Lee Konitz and Dave Liebman, violinist Stephane Grappelli, bassist George Mraz and pianist Martial Solal.

Halferty’s current trio features bassist Dave Redmond and drummer Kevin Brady and it was the latter who forwarded me a copy of this self released album recorded at Dublin’s Ventry Studios in May 2013 and mixed at Thon Studios in Munich, Germany. My apologies to Kevin for only just getting around to reviewing it but the start of a New Year seemed like a good time to take a look at this recording by a musician who is relatively little known in the UK but whose playing and writing here suggests that he is worthy of greater attention. 

Meanwhile Brady has appeared on the Jazzmann web pages before, firstly as a member of the Dublin based organ trio Organics whose album “New Light” was the subject of a review as far back as 2006! I later got to see him perform live at the 2011 Brecon Jazz Festival when he and Redmond performed as part of a trio featuring American pianist Bill Carrothers. 

And so to “Burkina”, a collection of six Halferty originals plus covers of tunes by John Abercrombie, Kenny Wheeler and The Beatles.

The album opens with Halferty’s own “Algiers la Blanche”, his dedication to the “strange and wonderful city” of Algiers. Halferty’s liner notes also speak of the “open and creative” nature of the trio and this is much in evidence on this elegantly smouldering slow burner of a tune with the guitarist’s melodic inventions supported by Brady’s subtly colourful drumming and Redmond’s anchoring bass.

Halferty has had a long musical association with British vocalist Norma Winstone dating back to a tour of Ireland in 1993 and subsequent appearances at the Cork and Bray jazz festivals. The guitarist’s “Norma & Kenny” is his tribute to both the singer and the late Kenny Wheeler. Written long before Wheeler’s death it’s a lively, celebratory, bebop flavoured tune with Halferty’s warm toned guitar sounding a little like Pat Metheny. Brady chatters energetically around him and gets to enjoy an effervescent extended drum break while Redmond supplies an energising bass pulse. Good stuff.

Besides his musical activities Halferty has also worked as a primary school teacher and the title of “D42” honours his former classroom. There’s an excellent rapport between the three instruments on a contemplative, loosely structured intro with Brady’s cymbal work particularly impressive. The main theme of the tune is highly accessible with Halferty again exhibiting something of Metheny’s melodic flair and with Redmond’s driving bass figure at the heart of the music. The bassist also gets to enjoy an upbeat solo that highlights his swinging dexterity.

Dedicated to his wife “One for Annie” is a highly personal tune, a delightful ballad that sees Halferty adopting an acoustic guitar sound. His nimble Spanish flavoured picking is complemented by the richness of Redmond’s bass and Brady’s neatly detailed, mainly brushed, drumming. Redmond displays his melodic qualities with an excellent solo, part of a superbly balanced trio performance.

“Airflight” begins with the sound of Brady’s drums which remain prominent throughout as the trio mesh tightly together on a subtly funky tune that is reminiscent of “Bright Size Life” era Metheny.  Both Redmond and Brady are extensively featured with lengthy solos. As the upbeat title suggests it’s terrific fun.

“Paramour”, by the great American guitarist John Abercrombie, is the first of the outside items. The tune first appeared on Abercrombie’s 1978 quartet album “Arcade” released on ECM Records.  The Halferty Trio’s interpretation of this elegant tune is a quiet delight with the guitarist’s cleanly picked lines complemented by the purr of Redmond’s bass and Brady’s light, splashy cymbal touch. The bassist solos in melodic fashion above a backdrop of sparse guitar chording and delicately brushed drums.   

Presumably The Beatles were a significant influence on the young Halferty. The trio’s take on the little known Paul McCartney song “She’s A Woman” (it was originally issued as the B side of the single “I Feel Fine”) is an effective blend of rock, jazz and blues influences with a sparkling solo from Halferty allied to fluid but muscular bass and drums.

The exotic Halferty original “Jala a la Montuno” features fiercely strummed acoustic guitar allied to a percussive tour de force from Brady who impresses throughout with a constantly inventive flow of rhythmic ideas. There’s some nimble picking from Halferty too as the pair exchange ideas in thrilling fashion. 

The sad demise of Kenny Wheeler in October 2014 adds an extra poignancy to the trio’s interpretation of his composition “Now I Know”. Halferty’s agile acoustic playing again features on a piece that begins in languid fashion but gradually increases in intensity as the tune unfolds with the trio continuing to exhibit that openness and creativity of which the leader speaks. Halferty’s low key virtuosity is well supported by quietly busy brushed drums and the steadying influence of Redmond’s bass.

“Burkina” may not break any new ground but it’s a highly accomplished guitar trio album with a great rapport among the musicians. Halferty’s writing covers a broad stylistic range and the outside material is well chosen with the Abercrombie tune a definite album highlight.  Everybody plays well and impresses in terms of both virtuosity and versatility. The mix by engineers Dave McCune in Dublin and Thomas Schmidt in Munich is crystal clear and the three musicians share the production credit. 

There is no title track so for those who were wondering “Burkina” is derived from Burkina Faso where Halferty’s wife Annie helps with the funding of hospitals and schools for the country’s street children. This information was gleaned from Paddy Kehoe’s review of the album for the RTE Ten website.

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