Alan Kelly's 1996 debut, Out of the Blue, was aptly titled. The piano accordion suddenly burst into life with Kelly's innovative playing. He skillfully created an album which was brimming with appeal, emotion, gusto and color and a flowing, loose style.
Mosaic is a change, not so much in material as in interpretation. These 11 tracks are from a variety of sources, mainly traditional Irish tunes, with some from Scotland, and a handful of others composed by Kelly, album producer Arty McGlynn, and Liz Carroll. The difference is, creative juices are allowed to run free when it comes to arrangements.
"Eva's Reel," the opening track, is a rolling accordion-led reel, with a guitar accompaniment highlighting the melody and a bass punctuating the rhythm. What really sets the tune apart is the fruity Hammond organ's chording, along with the trumpet and sax which sweep around the melody, and the light, unobtrusive drumming.
New elements are introduced on each track. For example, "Salamanca Samba," as the title suggests, brings in South American themes. Kelly sits back at one point and lets sax take a solo, but for the most part, he is there leading the ensemble through this Irish-Brazilian hybrid written by McGlynn. Guitar, bass and percussion drive the melody while fiddle, trumpet and sax accent the chorus lines.
Throughout the album, Kelly explores the possibilities different styles offer and succeeds where many have fallen in the past. A charming strathspey, full fledged Irish reels and salsa are all deftly handled with the understanding of someone who knows and loves the music.
And accompanying him throughout is McGlynn along with a dozen others playing instruments ranging from flute and fiddle to guitar and bass to trumpet and saxophone as well as piano and percussion. And with that instrumentation, the possibilities are endless. Kelly is aware of that and takes full advantage.
Crossover albums do not always work, but this one does possibly because Kelly never loses touch with his roots. For each swing or slide he introduces from another genre, there is something from his own background to give foundation. The sweeping new age keyboards on the air "Leaving Haines" are perfectly offset by the orthodox approach of the accordion. The exotic rhythm of the bongos on "Micho Russell's Reel" blend with straight traditional combination of accordion and flute. The jazz-styled accompaniment of "Hanley's Tweed" only emphasizes Kelly's Irishness.
And along with Kelly, much credit must go to Arty McGlynn, whose playing is impeccable, compositions appealing and production spot on. He's the perfect foil for Kelly. This album shows the great understanding and sympathy the two have for each other, and promises much for future collaborations.
Perhaps the highlight comes at the end of the album with Flowers of the Forest, a Finnish tune well assimilated into the Irish repertoire. I've not heard it done this way before. And, like with the album as a whole, the only thing to do as it ends is press the repeat button. - Jamie O'Brien
Alan Kelly web site: www.blackboxmusic.ie
"Salamanca Samba" composed by A. McGlynn / (p)© 2000 Black Box Music, used by permission
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