Although by no means newcomers I only recently discovered Ensemble Ériu, a septet led by Jack Talty and Neil O’Loghlen. Their eponymous debut album was released just over a year ago and in terms of music rooted in the Irish music tradition this is unlike anything I’ve ever heard before which in itself is an exciting prospect. In his review of The Gloaming (a featured Album of the Month on FRUK) Simon quoted from Martin Hayes:
“Tradition in music is not frozen at a point in time, but is a process in motion that is undergoing constant change and refinement. It is a reflection of people’s lives…In Irish music today there is much debate and division on the issues of continuity versus change and tradition versus innovation. I think it is a mistake to divide these issues as the music is capable of containing all of these parts at once. The real battle is between artistic integrity and the forces that impede creative expression.”
Ensemble Ériu are a living breathing example of that statement. According to their website Jack Talty and Neil O’Loghlen draw on a wealth of creative sources to perform arrangements of Irish traditional music rooted in the styles of West and North County Clare. Their music features both minimalist and jazz arrangements but it’s how they build these that sets them apart from other such minimalist innovators.As you can hear on Jurna, our Tune of the Day and the opening track of their debut album, they don’t use a standard minimalist approach of building the arrangement from a seed. Instead the Irish traditional melody, in this case the New Custom House Irish reel, is at the very core or heart of the arrangement. For this piece they attribute Joe Cooley who they first heard playing the reel. Those unfamiliar with the name Joe Cooley (1924-73) he was an accordion player from Co. Galway. He’s well known for his ‘deceptively simple and straightforward’ playing but his music had what many call a ‘lonesome’ quality. It even comes across in his deep voice that Gerry Diver used in his Speech Project on the track ‘When in New York’. Joe spent considerable time in the US, his personality was like a magnet to many and not just those on the Irish music scene. He arrived in San Francisco in 1965 and according to Fintan Vallely’s Companion to Irish Traditional Music his ‘relaxed and uncluttered personality had enormous appeal to freedom-seeking hippies who formed part of California’s cultural mosaic in the late 1960’s.’ The relaxed pace of playing by Ensemble Ériu and the space they create around it captures the very quality of the player they are taking influence from. It is from the patterns and melodic elements of that tune that they orchestrate their music but they also breathe new life into not just those melodies but also those personalities.
In a recent interview with RTE’s Lyric FM they state “You don’t just hear a tune, you hear who played it and how they expressed it, and that’s something that’s very important to us; so not just a tune, but these little [individual] things, whether it’s Micho Russel or Bobby Casey or Clancy, something that was individual to them, something that you can draw upon.”
If anything their music will have you grabbing old recordings and listening with new ears which I found myself doing after hearing this. This is Jurna:
Released on Raelach Records
Photo Credit: Joe Cooley by Eric Thompson