28th Feb 2019 in Arts

The “small but perfectly formed” Belfast jazz festival is back for a seventh year.

Nine gigs, thirteen acts, one stage, one beautifully boutique music festival – all in the heart of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter.


The festival

It all kicks off this Saturday, with the Black Box playing host to a wonderfully eclectic range of gigs and performances between 2nd and 9th March – all of which fall under the category of jazz. The festival has grown year on year and the j-word is becoming “less of a dirty word”, says Mick Bonner of Moving On Music, the organisers of Brilliant Corners. “I think it’s because jazz is such a great art form; there’s real freedom to interpret.”

Moving On Music, based in The MAC, is the leading promoter of jazz, folk, roots, traditional, classical and ‘other’ music in Northern Ireland. Since 1995, the organisation has been a champion of music education and innovation.

Brilliant Corners continues to serve an appetite in Belfast for music that’s “a bit different”, explains Mick, “People can let their guard down.” Although he admits there is still a lingering stigma attached to the idea of going to a jazz festival, the most common piece of feedback the Moving On Music team hear every year is: “I didn’t expect to enjoy that as much as I did!”

But its ‘niche-ness’ is part of its magic, and that’s why the team have kept it relatively small over the years. They are, however, always happy to go big on talent and this year is no exception.

The music

The festival opens with the multi-award-winning Ulster Youth Jazz Orchestra on Saturday afternoon, followed by The Comet Is Coming that evening – described as “the soundtrack to an imagined apocalypse” – but one that is promised to get you on your feet.

Sunday sees Japanese-born pianist Izumi Kimura take to the stage. Although classically trained, her musical journey has taken her into jazz and improv – a fascinating blend of influences to experience live. The Scott Flanigan Trio with Ant Law follows in the evening, which promises to be an exciting evening from some of the best improv artists on the circuit – as well as a brand new track written by Scott especially for Brilliant Corners – you’ll hear it tonight!

The Comet Is Coming. Pic credit Fabrice Bourgelle

On Wednesday, the Brian Irvine Ensemble returns – an act Mick describes as having “the midas touch” when it comes to festival performances. “He just has a knack for bringing a room full of people along with him and the music.” This 12-strong group of musicians formed around 20 years ago and toured the world with their “life-affirming” music. They reformed specially for a performance at last year’s Brilliant Corners, and were one of 2018’s major highlights.

Singer / pianist / composer Lianne Carroll has teamed up with bass player Cormac O’Brien and drummer Dominic Mullan for an unforgettable festival outing on Thursday. The multi-award winning performer plays solo for the first half before being joined by two supremely talented musicians for an unmissable second half.

We head into an exciting weekend of music with Pauli Lyytinen Magnetia Orkesteri – multi-award-winning quartet Finnish saxophonist Lyytinen has put together a “hugely exciting” ensemble for Friday evening’s show. The Moving On Music discovered Pauli at an international jazz conference and knew instantly he had to be part of 2019’s line-up.

Liane Carroll

One of Moving On Music’s Emerging Artists of 2016, Joseph Leighton brings his musical trio to the stage on Saturday afternoon. This concert will see Joseph joined by fellow Emerging Artist Jack Kelly on bass and Joel Waters on drums, and there are rumours we could hear some new music tonight too…

Going out with a bang, the festival closes with Get The Blessing on Saturday evening. The Bristol-based four-piece boast two former Portishead players, and their monstrously infectious, trip-hop-informed music defies easy classification but is certain to see the week ending on a high.

Joseph Leighton

The message

As well as these “life-changing” gigs (for Moving On Music strongly believes that music has the power to change lives), the programme includes a  programme of education and outreach, as well as an exhibition of music photography.

The schools workshops and concerts are a response to what Mick describes as a “lack of arts provision” in Northern Ireland’s formal education system. “Across Europe, it’s embedded in education, whereas here it seems to be more peripheral. I think that’s dangerous – art as a practice is about more than the immediate experience; it teaches you to think.”

The organisation feels passionate about early intervention, particularly as there appear to be few clearly-defined career paths into music within the education system. Against a backdrop of dwindling funding and alarming political stagnation, they feel it is more important than ever to use Brilliant Corners to expose young people to music they may otherwise never experience.


Brilliant Corners kicked off on Sat 16th February with an incredible gig in Sonic Lab by pianist Craig Taborn. If you were at this performance, you may well be in line to be a Brilliant Corners record breaker!

Mick explains: “We have a festival ticket which gets you into all ten shows for just £45 – and nobody has done it yet! We’ve had a few go to nearly all of them, but nobody has yet been to every single gig. So if anyone goes to all ten shows this year, they will be the first.”

Although the most expensive ticket is just £16, the festival ticket still represents a saving of over £90. The full programme and ticket booking are on www.brilliantcornersbelfast.com – but we advise you get on it quickly!

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