When it comes to Irish Tenors I tend not to like them. When it comes to the song Danny Boy then Lord spare me enough is enough. And yet when I hear the Irish Ballad The Parting Glass my objections to syrupy Irish Ballads melts away. Here is an exceptional choral version of a song that has been a favorite of Irish Tenors and folk singers for many a year. It is a version done by the UCD Choral Scholars – “The Choral Scholars of University College Dublin, under the artistic direction of Desmond Earley, is Ireland’s leading collegiate choral ensemble. With a large repertoire ranging from art to popular music, and stretching from the medieval to the contemporary in style, this choir gives many concerts throughout the academic year, both in Ireland and abroad. Following a competitive selection process each September, eighteen gifted students are awarded a scholarship, with recipients of the award coming from a range of academic disciplines across the university, from Music to Medicine, Law, Agricultural Science, Commerce and Engineering.” – Wikipedia
For pure emotion check the following video – Choir singers from University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire Women’s Concert Chorale surprised locals of Peadar O’Donnell’s bar in Derry with their beautiful rendition of The Parting Glass.
And when you remove the syrup from the song this is what you get – Ronnie Drew of the Dubliners. Remember that before the Pogues there was the Dubliners…….
Given the current situation in Spain now would be a good time to re-read George Orwell’s HOMAGE TO CATALONIA. It was written almost 80 years ago and recounts George Orwell’s experiences of fighting on the Spanish government’s side in the Spanish civil war. In black and white terms it was “democracy versus fascism”, but as George Orwell explains it was not quite that simple. The same can be said of the current situation in Spain. The book has an immediacy that still feels fresh today. Some readers may think the discussions of the political parties at the time a little tedious but if you are so inclined George gives you the option to skip those parts. It is well worth a revisit to get some understanding of Catalonia.
The Green Door Presents Michael Occhipinti’s Sicilian Project at Centre 64, Kimberley, July 13, 2017, 7:30 pm
Pilar, Tony, Michael and Scott
It is a long way from Sicily to Toronto and it is even further to Kimberley in the back blocks of British Columbia. Never-the-less, Michael Occhipinti (guitar) and his band of musicians, including the vocalist Pilar (all the way from vacation land in Sardinia) and Toronto bassist Scott Kemp traveled west and managed to hook up with the Kootenay’s “go-to” drummer Tony Ferraro for the Western Canadian tour of Michael’s The Sicilian Project. This is Michael’s nod to his Sicilian cultural roots featuring a healthy dose of folkloric musical themes and stories from the island of Sicily. Actually it is more than a nod. It is a full blown cultural experience that has nothing to do with the popular images of Sicily as presented in the novels of Mario Puzo and Director Francis Ford Coppola 1972 films of The Godfather. This was a wonderful evening of Sicilian culture as seen through the eyes and memories of Michael Occhipinti, his family and his extended visits to the Island. It was Sicilian culture with a twist. There is no way that Michael could deliver an undiluted portrayal of today’s Sicily or even the Sicily of yester-years. Michael is Canadian so it goes with out saying his perceptions of his parents homeland’s poetry and music is colored by his everyday Canadian experiences. That is not a bad thing, and as cultures change and evolve that it is probably the way it should be. Having said that, what the audience got was an evening filled with music, stories, language and humor. The music and musicianship was first class. Michael is one of Canada’s finest guitarists and to quote his website “Michael Occhipinti is a versatile, sound-sculpting guitarist and composer/arranger, who has spent decades freely moving between jazz, chamber music, world music, r&b/funk, and anything involving modern guitar sounds. He is a nine-time JUNO Award nominee and leads several acclaimed groups including The Sicilian Project, Shine On: The Universe of John Lennon, The Triodes, and the 16-piece group NOJO (Neufeld-Occhipinti Jazz Orchestra“. This barely scratches the surface of some of his current projects and collaborations. Surely one of his most successful endeavors is his current collaboration is with the the Italian vocalist Pilar. What can one say? Well she is so, so, so ……… European and that is so refreshing in today’s homogeneous music scene. Tony Ferraro is from Trail and as they say in Trail you are either “a Mac or a Macaroni” ( ie. either a Scot or Italian) so I guess he has a legitimate Italian connection. Scot Kemp is a sessions musician in Toronto so he has the unique skills needed to fit into Michael’s projects.
Here is the set list for the evening: Set 1
1 Di Pugno Tuo
2 Sacciu chi parla a la Luna
3. Cherchez La Femme
4. Nun ti lassu
5. Per tutto L’inverno
7. Amuninni Razzietta
1. Il Colore Delle Vene
2 Lingua e Dialettu
4 Last Day at the Beach
5. Autoctono Italiano
6. Vitti ‘na Crozza
With the exception of Muorica, Amuninni Razzietta and Lingua e Dialettu from the CD MUORICA for me the music is entirely new. However, nestled in the set list is Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne and until you hear Pilar’s version sung in Italian, backed by Michael’s artificial guitar harmonics and Tony’s subtle mallets on drum kit you have not yet lived. This has to be a definitive performance.
It was a wonderful concert that was only marred by the exceptionally poor stage lighting. I am a photographer and I can be critical of stage lighting so I tend to complain about these things. I know it is a balancing act for stage directors to keep in mind the desire of musicians not to be blinded by the heat and the “in your face” lights, the needs of the audience to see the action on stage and the desire for atmospheric lighting to enhance the performance. However, the lighting system in Centre 64 is excellent and for this performance it was not used to an optimum advantage. I did capture some images but it was struggle on the very edge of what was photographically possible without resorting to using a flash. Here are some images from the evening.
I have to admit that although I was aware of the name Allan Holdsworth I had not paid any attention to his music. It was only the article Remembering Allan Holdsworth in July 2017 edition of DownBeat that prompted me to do a little research. Here is part of an entry in Wikipedia:
“Allan Holdsworth (6 August 1946 – 15 April 2017) was a British guitarist and composer. He released twelve studio albums as a solo artist and played a variety of musical styles in a career spanning more than four decades, but is best known for his work in jazz fusion. Holdsworth was known for his advanced knowledge of music, through which he incorporated a vast array of complex chord progressions and intricate solos; the latter comprising myriad scale forms often derived from those such as the diminished, augmented, whole tone, chromatic and altered scales, among others, resulting in an unpredictable and “outside” sound. His unique legato soloing technique stemmed from his original desire to play the saxophone. Having been unable to afford one, he strove to use the guitar to create similarly smooth lines of notes. He also become associated with playing an early form of guitar synthesizer called the SynthAxe, a company he endorsed in the 1980s.
Holdsworth was cited as an influence by a host of rock, metal and jazz guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satrriani, Greg Howe, Shawn Lane, Ritchie Kotzen, John Petrucci, Alex Lifeson, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Yngwie Malmsteen , Michael Romeo, Ty Tabor and Tom Morello . Frank Zappa once lauded him as “one of the most interesting guys on guitar on the planet”, while Robben Ford has said: “I think Allan Holdsworth is the John Coltrane of the guitar. I don’t think anyone can do as much with the guitar as Allan Holdsworth can.”
Well, he obviously has a bucket full of credentials so I went to YouTube to get a taste of what he is about. There are lots and lots of clips. This is not relaxing music. It offers very significant challenges for a potential audience and I for one am not sure I am up to the challenge. The one I have selected is interesting because it was recorded April 3, 2017. He died on April 15, 2017.
The Jason Buie Band at Studio 64, Saturday May 13, 2017, 8pm
This band is a “Power Trio” of lead guitar, bass and drums to accompany mostly blues/rock vocals. In Jason Buie’s words the trio plays “West Coast Rockin’ Blues”. The concept of the “power trio” evolved in the 1960s out of the Chicago Blues tradition of the likes of Muddy waters. The invention of electricity and the expanding virtuosity of musicians made the concept of a high volume, powerful trio viable. Prior to the electrification of the guitar the instrument was too quiet to make its presence really felt in most ensembles and situations. Electricity changed all that. With the vast increase in volume and the availability of numerous effect pedals the guitar trio came into its own in the 1960s. Now, here was a configuration that could hold its own in the largest of venues and circumstances. The concept went onto fame and fortune in the music of The Jimmy Hendrix Experience, Eric Clapton in Cream, and later on in the music of Motorhead, ZZ Top, The Police, Nirvana, Rush, the John Mayer Trio and many, many others. In the economically stressful times of today a three man unit is much more employable than larger bands and I think that is a contributing factor in the longevity of the format.
Jason Buie (guitar and vocals) resides in the capital, believe it or not, of West Coast Blues, Victoria B.C. Bass player Murf Martin is a local freelance musician who performs in many situations. I am not sure where the drummer Jimmy James calls home. Collectively they are a tight group performing mostly blues/rock material that dips deep into the huge repertoire of the genre. They kicked off the evening with an instrumental and followed through with a number of well known tunes and songs that included Randy Newman’s classic Louisiana and its unforgettable refrain “six feet of water in the streets of Angeline”. Considering the current flood situation all across North America this would seem to be a very appropriate song for the day. The evening featured a few originals (Drifting Hard) and lots of well known tunes such as Big Joe Turner’s 1955 hit Flip, Flop and Fly (“a tune to get you out of your seat and onto your feet”); Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic; Prince’s Purple Rain; Eric Clapton’s cover of Big Bill Broonzy’s I’ve got the Key to the Highway; The Band’s The Weight; Muddy Water’s I’ve Got My Mojo Working and a marvelous version of Carlos Santana’s melodic masterpiece Black Magic Woman. To sum it up my buddy Bill St Amand described the music as “Two O’clock in the morning music” and given our age it is not music we get to hear very often so the evening of loud free wheeling music was real treat for us old folks.
This was the last performance in the Stage 64 Spring Concert Series and the first one on the newly installed stage. As always the concert was a screaming success with another sold out crowd. The organizing committee would like to thank the Columbia Basin Trust, Telus and various organizations that made funds available for the installation of the stage. Thanks also to the Burrito Grill and B&B at 228 for the musicians food and accommodations and also the organizing committee and volunteers who have made this season another great success.
Basically I prefer instrumental music. Singer / Song writer music is fine but it is instrumental music that, for me, is a distillation of the real magic and mystery of music. I particularly like jazz and at every jazz performance I come away wondering “how did they do that” and the answer always escapes me. Its magic.There are also classical performances that amaze me with their perfection. Glen Gould’s recordings of The Goldberg Variations I have listened to more times than I could possibly count and it still sounds as fresh as the first time I heard it. Instrumental Celtic music falls into that realm of magic and mystery where one forgets the beginning and the end and gets lost somewhere in the middle. A perfect example of what I am talking about is this performance by The Blackie O’Connell Band featuring Cyril O’Donoghue on Irish Bouzouki; Meabh O’Hare on Fiddle; Blackie O’Connell on Uillean Pipes and, off camera, Eamon Cotter on Flute. Why do Celtic performances, and this one in particular, appeal to me?
Well here are some of my observations:
I like the tunes. Even some Irish citizens disparage the music as “diddly i-di-di music” and prefer more modern genres. I can see why some audiences, including my daughter in law, think that all the tunes sound the same. To begin with, to appreciate the tunes one needs to be able to hear the differences between the various dance forms – reels, jigs, slip jigs, mazurkas, hornpipes, marches, Strathspeys, highlands, slides, polkas, etc, and that requires a lot of exposure to the music over a long period of time. Being born into the tradition helps.
I like the repetition of the tunes and the repetition within the tunes. Celtic instrumental music is dance music and dancers demand and expect predictable repetition. The basic format of a dance tune is an eight bar segment, Part A, that sometimes has a repeated four bar portion within the eight bars. The A part is usually repeated in total before moving onto the second B part that may, or may not be, similar to the A part. The B part is usually repeated and this can be followed by a C part with repeats or even a D part with repeats, depending on how many parts there are in the particular tune. So, the basic format of the tune is AA BB played two, three, or more times depending on the whim of the lead musician. If there are extra parts to the tune the format can be seen as AA BB CC DD etc also played as many times as the circumstance permits. The tunes in this example are in the AA BB format.
I like the way musicians can string together a batch of similar or dissimilar tunes to create an extended performance into what can be heard as a seamless composition. For me the more tunes strung together and the longer the performance the better I like it. The idea is to create a musical grove. In this instances the tunes are The Mullingar Races , The Mountain Top and Lady Gordon. In this YouTube example the band kicks off with the first tune and plays the usual AA BB form of the tune until the Piper, Blackie O’Connell, gives a subtle nod to switch to the second tune. The Bouzouki player deftly slides the capo up to the fifth fret without missing a beat. I suspect that, for whatever reason, he wanted to keep playing a D chordal pattern as the band changed up to the Key of G and the way to do that was to slide the capo up the neck to the appropriate fret. On making the switch to the second tune the fiddle player gives Blackie a sly wink and a smile as she hits the tune in lock step with the other performers. And so the performance goes on until Blackie looks across to the flute player and the fiddle player and gives the nod for the change up to third tune. The Bouzouki player slides the capo back down the neck as every body makes a seamless switch to the new tune. The piper finally gives the nod for the end repeat and the run down to the finale.
I like the lack of false theatrics. There are no flashing lights, fireworks, fog generators and gymnastic leaps around the stage. The musicians just play the music. Anything else is just unnecessary distractions.
I like the fact that instrumental Celtic music is not guitar based. The guitar can have a place in the music but it is essentially in a secondary role. The predominant instruments tend to be strong melodic instruments like the fiddle, flute, accordion, harmonica, mandolin and Uillean pipes. This gives the music a sonority that is very different from the run of the mill pop music. In this performance I particularly like the “wailing” sound that comes with the blend of pipes, flute and fiddle. The guitar as a rhythm instrument is not present on this performance and has been replaced by the Irish Bouzouki. In other performances the Irish frame drum, the Bodhran, can add punch to the rhythm.
In a jazz or classical music sense instrumental Celtic music may not sound as harmonically advanced. Although, that may be because the music is based on modal melodies and concepts and perhaps we just don’t hear what is happening in a conventional harmonic way. Any harmonic elements present are usually very simple. Bouzouki players, guitarists and piano players may enhance harmonic sensibilities by playing complementary bass lines and counter melodies and unison playing behind the featured melodic instruments.
Melody is a prime component in this style of music and the melodies tend to have a flowing line with few gaps and significant spaces in the music. The exception to this generalization would be slow airs. Most Celtic melodies, but not all, do not readily lend themselves to improvised solo treatments and that may be the reason that when Bluegrass musicians play these melodies that just don’t sound Celtic. Bluegrass musicians just love to solo and that concept is largely foreign to Celtic music. Wide variations in the melody are not usual. There is a tendency to just play the melody as it is “written”. Having said that it must be understood that “written” versions of a tune may not reflect the actual way a tune exists in a particular performance. “Written” versions are just the scaffold of the tune on which to hang the performance and musicians will interpret the melody as they see fit.
Rhythmically, depending on ones point of view, Celtic music is more varied. Most Jazz, Bluegrass and pop music is 4/4 in nature. Every now and then a waltz or a 12/8 blues shuffle will sneak in but the 1-2-3-4 beat is the rhythmic underpinning of most of our familiar music. Variety is provided by the use of “swing” and syncopation. Celtic music, like most ethnic based folkloric cultures seems to rely on eighth rhythms and triplets rather than standard four rhythms. 6/8, 7/8, 9/8 and various “dotted” rhythm syncopation co-exist along with the familiar 2/4 and 4/4 rhythms.
Having said all of the above. Nothing is cast in stone and like all rules they are there to be broken. In one form or another Celtic music has existed for hundreds of years and the reason it continues to exist is that each generation of performers literally re-invents the music. As the traditional fiddle player Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh of the Celtic band Altan has often mentioned in interviews “When I play a traditional tune I don’t play it the way my father played it. That would not be possible. I have been exposed to too many other musical influences to be able to do that”. That is why the music keeps evolving.
I believe it was Jelly Roll Morton who first coined the phrase “the Spanish Tinge” to describe the Cuban and Caribbean influences in early New Orleans jazz. It didn’t stop there. All through the last century “The Spanish Tinge” has been in Jazz in spades. Duke Ellington made full use of it in a number of classic compositions including Juan Tizol’s masterpiece Caravan. Dizzy Gillespie, along with the Cuban Conga player Chano Pozo used the “Spanish Tinge” to virtually invent a whole genre of jazz called Afro-Cuban Jazz. His tunes Tin Tin Deo, Manteca and A Night in Tunisia are staple tunes in the Jazz repertoire. Cuban and Porto Rican musicians invented Salsa and Latin Jazz and that has gone onto to infiltrate and influence the rock music of Carlos Santana. Even Mexican Mariachi now and again pops up as an ingredient in pop and rock music. “The Spanish Tinge” has even filtered back to the black continent to become a major influence in West African music.
“The Spanish Tinge” crops up every where except possibly in Celtic music. Because there are no cultural connections between the Caribbean and Ireland it is no surprise that “The Spanish Tinge” is largely absent from Irish music. However, a case could be made for a Spanish influence in Galician Celtic music. Galicia is a province of Spain so that is probably a special case. All of this does not mean to say that Celtic musicians are immune to outside influences. It is just that they have looked in different directions. They look to the music of the Balkans (Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Serbia, etc) for that little bit of extra musical spice to lift their traditional music into another space. It may seem to be an odd connection, but keep in mind that Romany and Gypsies (The Travelling People) have always had a significant presence in Ireland and as a group they have cultural connections that go all the way back to Eastern Europe. So it is not surprising that Irish musicians have developed an interest in the music of the Balkans. The modern renaissance in Irish Celtic music of the early 1960s was well under way when a number of Irish musicians started wandering around Eastern Europe picking up tunes and instruments from that part of the world, bringing them back to Ireland, modifying and blending them into the Irish Celtic fabric. There are strong instrumental and dance components both in Balkan and Celtic music so the fit was pretty natural. Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny and others explored the potential of the Greek Bouzouki in Irish music and in a short period of time they developed a flat back version called the Irish Bouzouki. This instrument has become a “traditional” Irish and has a significant presence in many bands – Planxty, De Dannan, Altan and The Bothy Band, to just mention a few. Along with the bouzouki came tunes in odd meters (7/8, 9/8, 11/8, 14/8, etc), with odd changes of keys mid-tune and distinctly Balkan flavored melodies. These started showing up in the repertoire and recordings of bands like Planxty. Over the next forty years the Balkan influence has not abated and as Uilleann Pipers, fiddlers, guitarists, bouzouki and flute players became embroiled in the mix and improved their fluency it is sometimes hard to separate mainstream Celtic from Balkan influenced tunes. So here are some YouTube picks that demonstrate Balkan Benefits in Celtic music.
The first out the gate is Paul Brady and Andy Irvine’s elaboration on the familiar Irish theme of domestic “Bliss”. It is the traditional ballad Wearing the Britches“. It is followed by a Balkan tune written by Paul Brady called “Out the Door and Over the Wall”. This was recorded in 1976 and that must have been in the early days of the Bouzouki’s foray into Irish music. Both Andy’s and Paul’s Bouzoukis feature the elaborate inlaid tops that are traditionally Greek . I suspect the instruments are in a Balkan or Greek tuning rather than GDAD that has become the standard Irish tuning. I have seen several manuscript versions of this tune but the most accessible one appears to start out in D major in a variety of meters that switch between 11/8, 7/8, 9/8, 8/8 etc. Mid tune there is a key change to E minor.
Next is a recording of Suleiman’s Kopanitsa from 2012. Note that Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine are now playing the more familiar standard Irish version of the bouzouki that is probably tuned GDAD. Note how Paddy Glackin’s pipes blend seamlessly into the musical mix. The Uilleann pipes actually sound more Eastern European than western. This tune appears to have a mixed heritage as it is described as a tune with both Bulgarian and Lebanese elements. The transcriptions I have seen are in D major with a G major section. It is in a straight forward uncomplicated (if that is at all possible) 11/8 meter
Below is Michael McGoldrick’s playing his Balkan inspired Waterman’s. This is a fairly straight forward 7/8 Irish tune in G. The rhythm is a straight 7/8 counted 1 2 1 2 123 . Just listen to the bodhran and the guitar just nailing the rhythm. Once you get the feel there is no need to count. As for the flute playing look out Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull). You aren’t the only flute player who really rocks……….
and now as a special treat in a more traditional Irish mode here is more from Michael McGoldrick. I believe the tunes are Jenny’s Picking Cockles and The Earl’s Chair.
For those who are more technically inclined here are some manuscripts for a few of the tunes. They are not actual transcriptions of the above performances rather they are tools to learn the bare bones of the tunes.
Click on the following link – THE SESSION IS A USEFUL DATABASE OF IRISH TUNES .A significant number of Swedish, Norwegian, Balkan and other odd traditional tunes can also be found on this site. When looking for the manuscript of a traditional tune this is a good place to start
The recent performance of the Irish Celtic Band Lunasa At the Key City Theatre in Cranbrook should have been an eye (ear) opener for local audiences. I am sure it is the first time that a Uilleann Piper has graced a local stage. Cillian Vallely playing that curious collection of Irish plumbing certainly gave Lunasa a very distinctive sound and his solo piece was, for me, the highlight of the evening. This is a uniquely Irish instrument that as a Celtic mood instrument has replaced the highland bagpipes. It is not unusual in movies these days when the story line involves the highlands it is the Irish Uilleann that you will hear on the sound track providing the appropriate mystical mood. So it would seem appropriate to have a look at tutorial video to get some idea of how the instrument works.
Also here are also some performances on an instrument that has since the early 60s has gone from strength to strength. I remember in the mid 60s pipers traveling to Ireland to literally sleep on the floor to study at the feet of the great masters who were still alive. Here are some more recent performances. First off there is the Scotsman Fred Morrison who is also a master Highland piper, whistle, small pipes, etc, etc. .
Catherine Ashcroft playing a slow tune that only bagpipes can bring us to a high emotional state. She follows the slow piece with a tour de force on the KING OF THE PIPERS. What I find fascinating is how full the sound can be with all the drones going and various registers that can be heard when Catherine drops her wrist onto the registers. Also Maurice Dickson percussion and guitar accompaniments are more than note wothy. Celtic guitarists seem to have a lock on how to play rhythm guitar.
Just in case it is thought that only traditional Irish Music can be played on Uilleann pipes here is a classical piece by Handel.
and of course Cillian Vallely of Lunasa fame playing the popular LARK IN THE MORNING