Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Diddly eye

It is very rarely that a genre of music with set prescribed boundaries, can be melded with another genre without, diluting both forms. Usually success is achieved when a musician or composer views the musical boundaries of his chosen arena as flexible and extends them, overlapping with or hinting at another genre, without smashing the fences between them. Irish Traditional music is such a type. Centuries of tradition have resulted in a delightful form of music which is handed down from generation to generation. Each new generation interprets the myriad of tunes through the prism of it's own experiences, the best among them can incorporate other musical forms. This has resulted in an ancient music which has withstood tyranny, mass indifference, condescension, musical conservatism and commercialisation to be as vital today as at any other period in its long history. But change comes slowly. It takes either a full on flaming visionary, or a subtle genius. The latter is the case here.
Every so often a musician or musicians crop up who can do just his, innovate without destroying the essence of the genre. Martin Hayes and Denis Cahill are such musicians. Hayes is an astonishingly gifted fiddler, rising way above the technicalities of great tone and well honed chops, (he has both to spare), to a place where he can incorporate subtle sensibilities from other forms. One hears a blue note here, or some Stephan Grapelli jazz there, but there is never a doubt that this is Trad, plain and simple. He has what he himself describes as "The Lonesome Touch" (also the name of their first album). It is the sadness that lies at the heart of Irish music, a wistful melancholy wrapped in the crazy joy of every jig and reel, that only the best musician can touch. But it is in partnership that these two find their genius. Denis Cahill's, (Chicago born), guitar playing is sublime. No showboating here. Subtle picking, harmonics, chords that stretch the harmonic architecture of Trad beyond minor and major - always supporting the melody, and gently innovating where he can. I have been playing guitar all my life, and it takes a lot to impress. Like most musicians I tend to listen to music with my brain rather than my heart. I am also a recording engineer which is the surest way to ruin listening to music for pleasure! However Cahill's playing overcomes both these aural handicaps, and leaves me slack-jawed. He makes me want to pick up my guitar and practice, his musicianship renews my own. This is the greatest compliment one musician can give to another.
I haven't even mention how their albums are perfectly paced, designed to be listened to at one sitting. But if you go out an buy their "Live in Seattle" album, you can hear for yourself.


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