Back & forth between tradition and abstraction @ the Cobalt Cafe

Last night’s fun was a paradox of high-brow variety show mixed with a bill of foot-stompin’ chamber music; it felt a bit like a segment of a John Kelly radio programme, perhaps. Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh brought together a dancer and a few American musicians he loves (who happen to be in Ireland at the moment) for an evening of somewhat uncharted acoustical adventure.

The territory encompassed composed music (at this extreme, Donnacha Dennehy’s name was mentioned by Dan, who he is working with while here), traditional dance music from Ireland (represented by special guest, Mick O’Brien), America and Norway, and (in effect, at least) an acoustical trance music that one might liken to a dance floor remix.

The centrepiece was made up of various Dan Trueman tunes – beautiful, evocative, abstract composed music with links to Norwegian and American folk but with very modern scales and tuning,  played either by Dan himself on fiddle and Hardanger with his wife Monica Mugan (together playing as Trollstilt) on guitar, or with Brittany Haas (of alternative bluegrass band Crooked Still) on fiddle.

In sharpest contrast, the only unstrung instrument of the night was Mick O’Brien’s pipes; with Caoimhín and playing solo briefly Mick represented one extreme of Caoimhín’s musical world – pure traditional Irish music grounded by either song or dance, with nothing abstract or exploratory about it (theoretically). And yet it is abstraction, contemplation and physical meditation that Caoimhín seems to have found in traditional music and to take with him (“remix”!) into more modern forms.

The evening was opened, the scene was set, “the buzz was begun”, by Caoimhín playing a solo set of tunes (and a slow air, I think) performed, in typical O’Raghallaigh style, at a variety of speeds and volumes, that could be compared to a DJ’s mix: playing with the crowd’s emotions; taking them on a journey of highs, lows, drops and lifts that dance floors thrive on, and that displays Caoimhín’s own musical journey back and forth between tradition and abstraction.

But this was no dance floor; rather ’twas the hushed Georgian reception rooms of the Cobalt Cafe filled to overflowing with a hugely impressed audience of fringe music lovers, who, one felt, were regularly on the verge of becoming more vocal and even of getting up and dancing, but were held back by the space and by the mutability of the music.

Nic’s dancing not only added another layer of thrill … but the result was greater than the sum of the parts, a multiple of them, in fact; paradoxically helping one hear more of and in the music. He is a total joy to watch – music embodied in physique, gesture, movement and muscle; an eye-opener for the ear, as it were, such is the precision, detail and adventure of his sense of rhythm.

And Nic’s wasn’t the only dancing either. When Dan & Caoimhin did their duet, on a Caoimhin original tune, one could see it as a dance really – the swaying of their close and faced-off bodies in musical time and the crossing paths of their (matching) bows and pegboxes. Brittany, too, as would be expected, had a strong sense of the dance of her music, walking on the spot or swaying through the more old-timey pieces. When Nic & her did their duet, their interaction had the quality of a tango in its give and take, in its responsiveness and in its self-contained perfection.

All of which – for anyone who doesn’t speak Highfalutin’ – means: it was a mind-blowing night of music. Fair dues to Conor Byrne & Caoimhín for getting it together, to the Cobalt Cafe for hosting, and to the musicians for raising all that money for St Vincent de Paul.


One thought on “Back & forth between tradition and abstraction @ the Cobalt Cafe

  1. Some nice comments on this post over on Facebook >>

    Caoimhin O Raghallaigh Thanks to Paul for posting a review of last night’s fun!

    Karen Cook Looks like a great time and what a nice review!

    Paul Edward Keating Lovely review of an apparently wonderful show. Where is this venue and is there more music nights in its future?

    Caoimhin O Raghallaigh It’s a great place on North Gt George’s Street in Dublin – about ten years ago, Tony Mac Mahon used to run a night there called The Poet and the Piper – amazing nights of music and poetry. Had completely forgotten about it until we needed a place for this gig. It’s a great great spot, lovely people, lovely vibe. Hmmm. Might be nice to get a series going there again at some stage…

    Aoife O’ Brien What a lovely review! I simply must tell father about it he shall be most pleased. Bravo and Huzzah to all involved and to all a good night.

    Ciaran O’Grady Lovely Review and a brilliant evening. More please, Caoimhín and co! Great to catch up with some old friends too.

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