Aizle – Aizle (EP)
Self Released – 2017
Aizle, one of the latest among the new crop of exciting young folk/traditional bands, have delivered their self-titled debut 4-track EP. What their EP lacks by definition quantitatively is more than made up for with a refreshing, high-quality take on traditional tunes new and old. Aizle – the Scots word for ‘spark’ – brings together five musicians from the Scottish, Irish and English, traditional and folk circuits. The band met whilst living, playing and, most of them studying, at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.
The band – Graham Mackenzie (Fiddle); Ciaran Clifford (Whistles); Joe Bardwell (Guitar); Jim Molyneux (Piano); Stewart Wilson (Double Bass) – may be new and relatively young but they come with some real, mostly Manchester connected, pedigree. Jim plays in 4Square (also formed in Manchester) whose beautiful cover of Richard Thompson‘s Farewell from their 10-year anniversary EP ‘X’ we recently featured (read it here). Jim also played, alongside Graham, on the music written by Mike McGoldrick for the ‘Men at Lunch’ documentary. It explored the iconic 1932 photograph by the same name depicting eleven steel workers eating lunch whilst perched on a girder 850ft above Manhattan during construction of the Rockefeller Centre. Graham’s Crossing Borders album, released earlier this year, was described by our reviewer Donald MacNeill as ‘excellent’ adding “every play of the album reveals more layers and subtle little twists’ (read the review here). Joe has played with Manchester based Irish traditional musicians Emma Sweeney and Ríoghnach Connolly, whilst Stewart played on the well-reviewed Johnny Hunter Quartet’s While We Still Can jazz album, released last year (no prizes for guessing which city they are based in).
You can hear much of what Aizle are all about within a few bars of Alan Kelly’s Rudi’s Reel, the first tune of the first set. Immediately there is a different sound to most traditional music ensemble playing. What you notice straight away is the delicate but assertive piano accompaniment behind the whistle and fiddle playing. The quality of the bands’ playing, distinctively, is not contingent upon all its members playing simultaneously, so we don’t hear Joe and Stewart until Scott Drive, the second tune in the set. Here things liven up in a more typical fashion, but still featuring a prominent piano setting that provides a highly effective counterpoint, that draws attention without distracting from the tune. Joe’s fine rhythmic guitar comes to the fore on both of the last two tunes in the set – a traditional tune Naughton’s and Bethan’s Dance written by Francis McIlduff from Idir.
A similar mix of arrangements follows on the rest of the EP. We get tunes from lesser-known composers such as Scottish fiddler Ian Hardie with Kelsae Brig (in the King of the Clans set) and piper Ron MacLean’s Mrs Mackenzie’s Dilemma. MacLean’s story is intriguing: he spent over 20 years working as the caretaker at the Culloden Academy near Inverness and was asked to take over the piping tutor’s role for the five years up to his retirement in 2005. The Mrs Mackenzie in question was the Principal Teacher of Music at the Academy and apparently her dilemma – frequently witnessed by Ron – was how to arrange the furniture in an L-shaped classroom. Ron’s tune book, The Culloden Collection of Bagpipe Music, was published in 1996 (read Robbie Mackenzie’s blog for more about Ron MacLean). Tunes from more familiar composers include Sean Ryan’s Father Quinn’s, Colin Farrell’s Apsley Cottage and John McSherry’s Áille’s Arabesque.
I saw Aizle play The Carousel Sessions at Chorlton Irish Club in Manchester as part of their mini-tour to launch the EP, where they had the unenviable task of following a first half charity memorial for Manchester Irish Traditional music scene stalwart Vinnie Short and Music in Hospitals which had included, in the band’s own words, ‘a vast array of talented musicians’. To their huge credit they had the audience’s full attention in no time, playing a captivating set that showcased the variety of arrangements heard on the EP, of which they deservedly sold plenty of at the end of the night, but not before everyone who had played in the first half, and more, joined Aizle on and adjacent to the stage for a few tunes.
Aizle’s first recorded work definitely has something a bit different about it; a ‘spark’, even. It has a similar delicacy and uncluttered feel to that Of Duncan Chisholm’s works, but differs in terms of the band members’ classical and jazz backgrounds being happily noticeable as they meld with a hugely enjoyable bunch of Irish and Scottish traditional tunes.
A great start – let’s have more.
Aizle is Out Now. Order it here: https://www.aizlemusic.com/debut-ep/