I like my malt whisky straight. Very rarely I go for even a drop of water and never, never ice.
So, naturally, I approached the new album by Irish master fiddler Martin Hayes with some skepticism. He plays here with the Brooklyn Rider String Quartet, one of the foremost in their field in the USA, and I flinched at the thought of earthy Irish Trad blended with smooth and polite chamber music idioms.
Well, so much for my prejudices. If I had first done my homework and learned that Brooklyn Rider has performed and recorded widely diverse music and keeps breaking boundaries, I would not have been surprised by the energy and vitality and ideas this album contains.
On a conceptual level, The Butterfly can be summed up pretty easily: Hayes and BR play traditional Irish tunes, with arrangements written for and in this project. And that’s it, really. What the concept means when it transforms into actual music is a great pleasure. It’s no surprise master Hayes’ fiddle is alive and excellent – it always is – but it’s Brooklyn Rider’s electrifying performance that really makes this a notable effort.
They play here pretty much by the rules of Irish music and can throw themselves into the trad groove with abandon – while at the same time giving nothing away from the disciplined classical ensemble playing. It’s fascinating, this unusually effortless meeting of two worlds, and it has kept me playing the album for days now. Hayes writes on his own web site, “It is an incredible pleasure playing with them. I just love the ideas and color they bring to traditional Irish music”, and it is very easy indeed to believe and agree with that. You can hear it.
What I like in particular is the way the arrangements actually add not only color but insight, for want of a better word, to the traditional material. There is no artificial artsy-ness either; the two slightly longer pieces (the title track and Port Na bPucai) wade perhaps ankle-deep into contemporary classical but very, very lightly.
So, over all a rich and rewarding experience. Heartily recommended.