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DÀIMH Diversions Greentrax CDTRAX343

Dàimh are a six-piece band who perform tradi- tional Scottish Highland music and song, and whose musical palette embraces fiddle, border pipes, highland pipes, whistles, banjo, man- dola, guitar, bodhran and vocals. This is the third album from ‘The Pirates of Puirt’ and it will delight all their many fans who just can’t get enough of their rocket-fuelled piping and fiddling and percussive guitar and mandola. Gabe McVarish’s superb fiddle continues to be at the heart of all that is wonderful about Dàimh – nuanced and expressive in the slow airs, fiery and muscular in the jigs and reels. The combination of fiddle and pipes in the percussion-propelled Lads And Lasses set is as good as Battlefield Band at their best.


METHERA In Concert Methera TAN002

Methera is a four-piece ensemble that’s been enjoying exposure on Radio 3’s Late Junction. Comprising English Acoustic Collective fid- dlers John Dipper and Emma Reid, violist Miranda Rutter (Jabadaw) and cellist Lucy Deakin, to all intents and purposes that’s a string quartet, but while it embodies the req- uisite aesthetic and cultural resonances with all the accuracy and precision (and discipline) expected of that classically acknowledged grouping, the players exude an added enjoy- ment and sense of involvement that’s more characteristic of folk session players. Howev- er, while Methera’s roots are firmly planted in English traditional music, much of their repertoire is self-penned. Methera’s trailblaz- ing debut CD appeared in 2008, since when they’ve been creating a stir with their intense and involving live performances. These have embraced collaborations with the likes of Karen Tweed & Roger Wilson and Kerr Fagan Harbron, and a lone selection featuring the last-mentioned trio is included on this disc alongside performances culled from two Methera concerts given last October. These chronicle an ensemble ever more confidently exploring that murky territory lying between folk and chamber music – and having a whale of a time doing so. Methera’s stage presence is rather intimate however – the musicians choose to play in an insular, inward-facing cir- cular grouping rather than a straight out- ward-facing performance line – and yet they foster a state of concentration that’s some- how (illogically?) inclusive for their audience.

This skilled approach is applied equally to the more animated jigs and an assortment of pictorially descriptive pieces, with a consis- tent sense of joyous momentum conveyed in sprightly bow-strokes and a depth of expres- sion not automatically associated with the rarefied string-quartet medium. The finest moments come when the ensemble’s beau- teous richness of tone combines with an attack that’s forceful and vigorous yet with copious light and shade and a keen, respon- sive control of internal dynamics. The second track’s creative juxtaposition of a Playford 3/2 hornpipe with a fabulous Andy May tune, the cascading onomatopoeia of Stepping Stones and the wholly infectious lilt of Mag- dalenas Vals (transporting Bach to Scandi- navia), all exemplify this; and yet Methera can also conjure a compellingly primordial mystical mood, as their original treatment of Gower Wassail (utilising obscure and deli- cious old modalities) proves. The finale’s fiendish pair of tunes aren’t to be dismissed as mere ‘mad technical fun’ either!

As live recordings go, this is state-of-the- art (even if the necessary protocols of the editing process detract from the aura built by a continuous concert experience), and suffi- ciently irresistible to entice you into buying a ticket to see Methera live. David Kidman


Given that he has spent so many years exploring the music of different cultures, mostly in tropical climes, it was only a matter of time before virtuoso slide guitarist Bob Brozman would bring his expertise and vision to blend with Irish music; this album, arranged and recorded in the six days of the title, sets him up with uilleann piper John McSherry and his colleague in At First Light, Dónal O’Connor, neither of whom are slouches in the instrumental department – and what a triumph the result is!

From the opening medley, Hardiman The Fiddler/ Michelle O’Sullivan’s, with fiddle, low whistle and pipes steaming along on slip jigs above Brozman’s rhythmic tricone guitars and cajón, the sheer class and musicality of the trio is set for the duration. An original composition by the ensemble, Brelydian, uses the Lydian mode in a slow polka to make an unusual mood, enhanced by high slide notes that hang in the air like a pedal steel guitar, and the atmospheric Pota Mór Fataí, from the singing of Róisín Elsafty, is one of the standouts due to Brozman’s slide and open Chaturangai guitars. But the session isn’t just serious: the Portaferry Swing medley opens with McSherry’s astonish- ing version of Ragtime Annie on the pipes, fol- lowed by the title tune from O’Connor and all three on the Cameronian Reel.

Stephanie Makem adds her haunting voice to two songs, the first, A Mháire Bru- ineall, from the singing of Donegal’s Aine Uí Laoi, the second Bean An Fhir Ruaidh, a mas- terpiece of understatement from Brozman on Hawaiian guitars. Another original, Beer Belly Dancing, does what it says on the tin, mixing Irish melody and Middle-Eastern accompaniment (!), and the album closes with an O’Neill tune, Cailleach A Shúsa, which brings things to where we started. It’s a joy- ous fusion, and if only the trio could tour the album, this reviewer would be in the front row at every gig. Ian Kearey

Having started out as a hard-driving instrumental band, Dàimh brought in Mod gold medallist Calum Alex MacMillan on their previous album to do a few Gaelic songs. They knew they had struck gold, and this album devotes more than half its space to Gaelic songs and Calum Alex’s vocals, a development that will surely broaden the band’s appeal even further – especially in the Scottish High- lands and Nova Scotia. Calum Alex was an interesting choice of vocalist for Dàimh. To match their hard-driving instrumentals one would have expected a steely-voiced singer in the Talitha Mackenzie mould. But on the con- trary, Dàimh have gone for high contrast. In Calum Alex they have someone whose vocal has a trembling, vulnerable, careworn quality that helps him inhabit the songs he sings. (I challenge anyone to listen to the tragic love- ballad ‘S Dubh Choisich Mi’n Oidhche [Dark I Walked The Night] and not feel an emotional lump in their throat.) Calum Alex’s singing creates a substantial dramatic presence (both on stage and on disc) and it changes the mood instantly. Hence the sequencing on this disc, where each vocal track follows and precedes an uptempo instrumental number. It works well. You sit and have a wee cry during the songs and then the next number has you up and whirling like a dervish again. It’s a kind of Gaelic Zen. – distributor: Proper.


Roots Of OK Jazz: Congo Classics 1955- 1956 Crammed Discs CRAW 67

OK Jazz started in June 1956. This, originally released in 1993, a companion to Crammed’s Roots Of Rumba Rock, is what immediately preceded it: a two-year slice of the origins, 1955-56. The first track is Franco singing La Rumba OK and you wouldn’t know it’s him. This fresh-voiced lad and a slightly bopped- up tea-dance orchestra sound, and the back- ground chorus singing ‘ribena’. Succeeding vocalists are Roitelet, Nganga, De Wayon, Pholidor, Vicky, Bemi, Dessoin, Rossignol and De La Lune: all founding figures.

No doubt a goldmine for students of the music, but relatively little reward for the sen- sation seeker. Me for instance: I like my Franco full of power and grace. This juvenilia sounds impossibly light and merry – African pop as the glorious Bonzo Dog Band might have coughed it up. Still, there are high points – Pholidor’s dreamy crooning on Mwana Pause is a thing of beauty and the insights and mem- ories recorded in the accompanying booklet offer an intriguing social history of Kinshasa in the mid ‘50s – a society suddenly with money to spare, fun to be had, and something gigantic waiting to be born.

In UK via Proper Note; Rick Sanders

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