On Saturday, April 22nd at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston, a fascinating aspect of contemporary Celtic music was on display for an extremely appreciative crowd. Boston is a central hub for all manner of Celtic music from Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, Brittany, and Spain. But The Gloaming provided a very unique ‘take' on this well loved music form. The show offered quite a bit more than the usual jigs and reels we all know so well. The Gloaming is a contemporary Irish music supergroup formed in Ireland in 2011, consisting of some of Ireland’s finest musicians.
With fiddlers Martin Hayes and Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh, guitarist Dennis Cahill, Irish singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, and pianist Thomas Bartlett (aka Doveman), The Gloaming has burst onto the music scene with a distinctive new sound. This is a very impressive lineup on its own, and honestly, many have individually or in pairs been through Boston at other times. Hayes and Cahill especially are well known here for their uniquely improvisational approach on fiddle and guitar. But this particular collection of 5 musicians have taken the basic rubric that is 'Irish Traditional Music’ and, at times, stood it on its ear. Many of the Irish tunes we heard last night are pretty commonly known, but were played in a way as to almost make them unrecognizable. And for me, that provided an extra kick to this wonderful show.
With 2 fiddle players ripping away, it was an opportunity for each fiddle to stray from the main melody - usually not encouraged in Irish music - but which, in this context, was happily encouraged and very successfully achieved. And with a pianist and an organist, there were also several other opportunities to explore shifting melodies, and how they played off of each other. At times, with Mr. Bartlett, head down on his piano as he played his sparse notes, it almost felt like Stockhausen meets Diddley-Dee. I have listened to a LOT of Irish Traditional Music in my lifetime, but this was truly a unique and powerful presentation of a very old art form - even to my ears. Teaching a very old dog new tricks? Bow wow.
I'd call The Gloaming in concert a Deconstruction of Irish Music, because it looks at the root forms of the music (a basic melodic line with individual ornamentation of that melody), and then just ever so slightly shifts the melody a bit over from one of the 2 fiddle players, or one of the 2 keyboard players, and the result is really something either jarring, or unique and special, depending on your point of view. The result of such a relatively small change with the melody is quite dramatic, and beautifully demonstrated by the musicians in The Gloaming. I would say that playing this style of music is not undertaken by the faint of heart. It takes a master’s touch. The musicians in the Gloaming have been on tour a while, and have made all of the fine tunings needed to make this delicate balance work so beautifully.
A major bonus for me in this show was the inclusion of Iarla O’Lionaird, truly one of the finest of all sean-nos singers alive (singing unaccompanied in Irish), and a native of the West Cork Gaeltacht - a place where the Irish language and customs are kept alive. O’Lionaird has a vocal tone and breath control in his singing which I find totally captivating, and his use of vocal ornamentation is unmatched. Combined with some sensitive and sparse backing on piano and fiddle, his feature pieces were a highlight for me. Some of you may remember him as the singer in the Afro Celt Sound System. This is a musician who adds so much in terms of authenticity and emotion to the Gloaming’s show. (You can also see and hear him singing in the recent film, ‘Brooklyn’, starring the wonderful Irish actress Saoirse Ronan). - David Smith
The Gloaming have 2 CDs out - both highly recommended.