Notes from Celtic Connections 2020, part 3

Sat 25

An evening at City Halls, and a very busy one – musically speaking. Both artists on stage displayed a staggering level of virtuosity – the notes per second index was at times through the roof – but never at the expense of the tune. Always about music, never only about showing off.

New York’s progressive mandolin sensei Jacob Jolliff and his band were new to me but boy, was that ever a hoedown upgraded for the 2020’s! A splendid mixture of bluegrass and other old time American styles, jazz and whatever else had come to the band’s fancy, it was an hour of kaleidoscopic musical swirl that blew me away pretty totally (I found myself yelling yee-haws much more than I usually do) and extra kudos must be given to the entire band for their individual skills and the amazing band playing. This is one I will keep my eyes on, as they bring something fresh and new to music that mostly likes to stay very close to home, so to say.

The headline spot after a performance like that must be an extremely tough spot but luckily it was the crème de la crème of Celtic aka Flook who took the stage. There was never any doubt about the quality of the music to come, and, in a way, the less I try to say anything clever about it, the better. If you are reading this, you most likely know what I’m talking about and if you’re going “who’s Flook?” you better get up to speed right now and head to Spotify or something like it for your first lesson 😉

The set was mostly the Ancora album but played in reverse order (!) with some older favorites after to ice up the cake. The tunes are brilliant and they were played to perfection, and stage banter by Ed and Brian was utterly hilarious.

And the bodhran solo by sensei John Joe Kelly was… surreal, by which I mean he not only played cosmic stuff I thought technically impossible with his signature “no helicopter rolls with the beater” style but he also integrated rhythms and styles from all over the world in a way that was beyond mere virtuosity. This was art in the form of music created with one stick and one piece of stretched skin. I’m still dumbfounded, three days later.

Sun 26

Another busy day, this time because we were swishing and swooshing from gig to gig. The day started with Fara’s Catriona Price presenting her solo work in the New Voices series. She is extremely talented and the super ensemble she had with her (including her Twelfth Day partner Esther Swift) realized her compositions with ease.

The Fara-style folk was mostly absent as she made her own composer’s voice forcefully clear. The material was quite varied, perhaps abundantly so for one concert, as it encompassed jazz, contemporary folk, vocal ensemble pieces, funk and even contemporary classical. Writing and poems by notable Orkney authors reflected the concert’s themes of home and leaving home. It was a very vivid concert, giving much bright promise for her future.

Later on in the afternoon, Lauren MacColl gave the most charming fiddle recital in the City Halls sold out recital room. Her fiddle sings like the gentlest angel and hers is my favorite fiddle sound along Duncan Chisholm’s equally warm and “narrative” fiddle.

Her recital was almost all airs, many of which will appear in her forthcoming album. She also gave nice background information on how and where she finds all these old tunes or how they are sonetimes pointed out to her by friends and fellow players. Being a pro folk musician seems to require a bit of an historian in you 🙂

To be honest, I probably needed this moment of beautiful, uncluttered music, played with so much heart, after a week of CC concerts and the relentless pulse of Glasgow, and the way Lauren MacColl delivered this music made the concert both therapeutic and artistically satisfying ❤️

The evening at the Old Fruitmarket was opened by Dowally, who a few months ago gave me an interview you can find elsewhere on this site. They are super nice and I love their music, a happy amalgam of styles, expertly played and with much feeling, so it was great to see them live and have my cds signed 🙂

The headline act, the unlikely combination of Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and the Colombian folk group Cimarron, opened with a sad note as Finch told the audience the leader of Cimarron, Carlos Rojas, has died of a severe illness just two weeks before. He had wanted their tour to continue and so the show did go on, with his widow singing and performing in a way that would have been heart-stopping by itself, let alone by someone coping with fresh and devastating loss.

The music itself made two things very clear: a harp player from Wales can very well play with a group of fast-playing Colombians, and not all Latin American music sounds either Mexican, Brasilian or Argentine – this was something way, way different with its fierce and complex rhythms bordering at times on prog rock complexity. The resemblance was more to multilayered Cuban rhythm feasts than other Latin styles.

Many displays of virtuoso playing and dancing were given during the set, with Finch and Cimarron’s own harpist engaging in a veritable harp duel at one point. On the whole, very impressive and, even if the genre is not my usual favorite, very entertaining. And a tribute to the troupe as they go on without their founder and leader.