June 3, 2011
Triptych, “Triptych” – There is something innately refreshing about Triptych, a trio with strong ties to Boston that has now released its long-awaited first CD. Whereas the trend in performing Irish/Celtic music is often “more is more,” Triptych opts for a stripped-down sound of fiddle, guitar, and percussive dance — or, if you will, fiddle, guitar and feet — casting the basic components of melody and rhythm into sharp relief.
Of course, concept is one thing, execution is another. What makes Triptych’s approach work is the prodigious, intermingled talents of its three members: guitarist-percussionist-vocalist Paddy League and step dancer Kieran Jordan, both Boston residents, and fiddler Laura Risk, who lived in Boston for several years before moving to Montreal. League’s inventive accompaniment, on bodhran and snare drum as well as guitar, bears the influence of jazz, Latin and world music, while Jordan’s command of improvisational sean-nos, Cape Breton step and other dance styles makes for a solid complement — she’s a living musical instrument in and of herself. And Risk is such a strong, expressive player that she keeps the melody squarely in the forefront.
The trio’s repertoire encompasses mainly Irish, Scottish and Canadian material, along with original compositions inspired by tradition. There are plenty of hues and tones on their canvas: bursts of energy, for example, such as in the four-reel set “Rise Ye Lazy Fellow” and “Dickie Rogers’ Pedestal Clog” (featuring a tasty snare drum-and-feet combo); the subtler but no less vigorous “O’Donnell’s Hornpipe/Thomond Bridge” and “The Girl from the Big House/Lady Washington”; and the rhythmical intricacies in “The Guinea Hen/Galician March” and “Pay As You Go.”
Adding further value are the three songs contributed by League, two of them in Gaelic: the forceful “Nansai Og Ni Obarlain” and “Mo Bhron Ar An Bhfarraige,” the latter an old Irish poem for which League supplied the stately, dignified yet emotive melody. Then there’s his rendition of “The Moving On Song,” which Ewan McColl composed for his radio ballad on the traveling people: More typically sung as something of a rabble-rouser, the song takes on a tender, reflective character with League’s gentle, disarming vocals and fluid guitar backing.
The word “organic” gets tossed around a lot these days, but it seems an apt description for the trio and its CD, hopefully the first of many: something developed and organized with a natural kind of efficiency.
Niamh Fahy, “Niamh” - Tara, Co. Meath, native Fahy belongs to the ranks of violinists who decided to forsake Suzuki for slides and set dances, in this case thanks to the influence of renowned Cavan fiddler Tony Smith. Still, she has continued to balance her classical and traditional sides -- playing in the Young Dublin Symphonia on the one hand and competing in the Fleadh Cheoil on the other – and has also done her share of genre-straddling, teaming up with singer/songwriter Liz Madden, and more recently playing on the “Riverdance” Moy Company tour.
Her debut CD is mainly in the traditional vein, with tried-and-true tunes like “The Rights of Man,” “O’Carolan’s Concerto,” “Fanny Poer” and “The Foxhunter Set,” as well as a few contemporary pieces, notably Bill Whelan’s “Caracena.” [It should also be mentioned that she includes an instrumental rendition of the Song That Must Not Be Named (rhymes with “Canny Toy”).]
While no stranger to spectacle given her “Riverdance” turn, Fahy takes a low-key approach here: just a few backing musicians (piano/keyboards, acoustic guitar, percussion, pipes and whistles), and little if any tendency toward overproduction.
I will leave it to my fiddling associates to properly assess her technique and style, but there’s no overt sense of a classical player struggling to “sound trad.”
So, no, nothing wrong here, exactly. “Niamh” just doesn’t generate much in the way of excitement; perhaps it’s the presence of overly familiar tunes, but something about the CD conveys a “if-you-like-Riverdance-you’ll-like-this” dynamic meant to appeal to listeners less experienced in Irish/Celtic music.