Retro Review: Aidan O’Rourke’s “Sirius” (2005) and “An Tobar” (2008)

When I started this website, I inevitably did – and constantly do – some backtracking and kind of musical fact-checking, listening to stuff I haven’t returned to in a while.

In that context, I said hi to Aidan O’Rourke’s earlier stuff, as it had been a while since I’d listened to it. I have to say his solo debut Sirius (2005) is one of my feelin’ good albums. In a way that’s surprising since it’s actually pretty elegant, controlled and tightly arranged music, a genuine Celtic folk + Fusion Jazz amalgam that does not attempt to make you dance or let your hair down, so to say. But I much enjoy the meticulous arrangements, the unlikely combo of a fiddle and a brass section, the brilliant work of the rhythm section, grooving solidly but never trying to take over. And the compositions themselves feel… familiar. In the song titles the Swedish town of Falun is mentioned and the Norwegian fiddler Harald Haugaard makes a guest appearance, so maybe there’s a Nordic influence in the music I as a Finn respond to. Be that as it may, it’s among my favorites.

Sirius is available on Amazon, Spotify and iTunes / Apple Music

On Sirius, there are some experimental moments that may be early indicators of the artist’s ambitions. In any case, when An Tobar was released in 2008, something had obviously changed. The mainstream jazz element and the band were gone, replaced by a framework straight out of a 1970’s prog rock album (five tracks with the shortest 5 min 22sec and the title track 9min 53sec and an album cover displaying a very old map of Scotland) and musical content in a completely unique sphere of traditional music, neo-trad and modern concert music meshed together.

An Tobar is a work of a composer very much in control, with a very strong vision of what he’s doing. The compositions seem to have myriad parts that come together in various configurations over the lengthy running times of the tracks. The almost ten-minute title track, for example, opens like a trad tune, then adds complexity and brings in a sax at about two minutes and before five minutes are up, we’ve encountered brief solos from a number of instruments and everything is built on a layered, pulsing groundwork of beats that keeps shifting a bit all the time. The album as a whole creates a labyrinth where majestic trad, contemporary concert music and sampled sounds weave in and out of each other. It’s music that requires effort and concentration from the listener and will not please everyone. I think it’s enigmatic, cinematic and magnificent – the more I listen to it, the more I find and appreciate; it is the first major work of the singular artist that Aidan O’Rourke had become and still is, bless him.

An Tobar is available on Amazon and Spotify

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