The Gloaming – Live at the NCH
Real World – 2 March 2018
A well-known proverb states that before you judge someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. Having lived with The Gloaming’s ‘Live at the NCH’ release for a week or so now, I’d like to offer an alternative to that chestnut for reviewers to remember: if you want to hear something as if for the first time, try listening to it through someone else’s ears.
The Gloaming have been on my radar since their eponymous 2014 Real World Records debut. A group formed between Martin Hayes (recently interviewed here), Dennis Cahill, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Iarla Ó Lionáird and Thomas Bartlett, all master musicians who are successful in their own right, the approach of their deeply satisfying ongoing collaboration has opened new perspectives on how traditional Irish music might be considered and played.
While ‘Live at the NCH’ was playing during the review period, though, a passing family member nodded approvingly and said ‘Great. Sounds like Irish music … but not.’ Working out what had been meant by that remark left me reappraising why The Gloaming have had the impact they have and concluding that those reasons are front and centre in their latest release.
Drawn from over two years of live performances at the National Concert Hall venue that has become the quintet’s home-from-home, producer Thomas Bartlett selected six tracks for the album: The Booley House, Cucanandy, The Sailor’s Bonnet, The Pilgrim’s Song, The Rolling Wave and Fáinleog.
As with their studio albums, what is immediately present is an organic collective understanding of traditional forms filtered through a balanced desire to push against and stretch them. However, a slipping of the studio leash results in a compelling live display of mutual musical interplay. The dynamic response between the fiddle lines and the questing intuitive chordal prompts of the piano on The Booley House opens the album in fine style, for example, steering the track through shifts of mood and texture; while Iarla Ó Lionáird’s beautifully judged vocals on The Pilgrim’s Song and Cucanandy plangently conjoin with the musical accompaniment, elevating both.
The level of virtuosity on display in Folk and Traditional music is currently at an all-time high, but what is so impressive about this release is the level of immersive intimacy that the quintet achieves in a live setting. Only the audience appreciation at the end of each track reminds you that they aren’t playing just for you.
I am perennially wary of using the word ‘fusion’ when describing music as it conjures images of endless prog-rock noodling or unlistenable atonal jazz odysseys. It’s a definition that has been used about The Gloaming’s music before, but what I hear now through freshened ears is a vigorous hybrid in which the traditional and the innovative are brought together in sympathetic complement. Forget the definitions. This is music deeply rooted in its time and in its space yet played without borders – and it’s all the better for it.
Order Live at NCH here: http://smarturl.it/rw219
Photo Credit: Rich Gilligan