A little bit of jazz heaven is taking place at McHugh’s Bar on Saturday evenings.
Last week witnessed the first in a new weekly residency of an all-star band featuring the astonishing US vocalist Dana Masters and fellow American, saxophone sensation Meilana Gillard.
The pair are backed by some of Northern Ireland’s best jazzers including drummer Steve Davis, pianist Scott Flanigan, bass player Carl Harvey and trumpeter Linley Hamilton.
The Dana Masters Sextet played an impressive range of classics from 60’s R&B, Soul, hard bop and the Latin rhythms of bossa nova. For a band playing together for the first time, the sound was polished and perfectly in sync.
South Carolina-born Dana Masters has an extraordinary range and velvety vocals that can make anything from Nina Simone’s ‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’ to the jazz standard ‘My Funny Valentine’ her own.
Her version of Etta James’ ‘At Last’ was the highlight – deeply felt and beautifully phrased – backed by the warm, rich tones of musicians who were fully sympathetic to the lyrics.
Dana sat out a couple of numbers allowing the talented band to give full rein to their skills, with impressive versions of Joe Henderson’s technically difficult Isotope at the end of the first set and Recorda Me to finish off the second.
With its low ceiling and intimate, cavern like atmosphere, the basement at McHugh’s is the latest great place to listen to live jazz in Belfast. The crowd is very knowledgeable and appreciative of the music. Walking down the stairs transports you into a petite and more welcoming version of famous basement clubs such as Ronnie Scott’s and the Village Vanguard
It is just one of a growing number of jazz gigs throughout Northern Ireland every week. Venues such as Bert’s Bar, SD Bell’s and the Black Box have given musicians a wider opportunity to show off their talents to a public hungry for top quality live music.
Linley Hamilton speaks of a jazz renaissance taking place with a lot of young enthusiastic players giving a fresh impetus to the music and inspiring the older musicians to even greater heights.
He said: “This is the strongest the music has ever been in Northern Ireland. We have some extraordinary talent here and it has been supplemented by exciting, world class imports such as Meilana Gillard and Dana Masters.”
The Dana Masters Sextet plays every Saturday from 5.30pm to 7.30pm in McHugh’s Basement Bar. It is a must for all lovers of great live music.