The amazing career of master fiddler Martin Hayes continues to be amazing. His website (martinhayes.com) gives much information on the background of this album and this new ensemble so please check it out.
Suffice it to say here that as the website mentioned jazz, contemporay classical and whatnot as inspirations for this project, I was not a bit surprised: I had listened to the album before I read the story (I try not to read anything about new releases before I have listened to them first).
And there is the big hint for approaching Peggy’s Dream. Hayes & co. are taking Irish traditional music (some tunes here are traditional, others contemporary trad) and giving it another Hayes twist, following his other variations on tradition, re: The Gloaming and the fab Butterfly album with Brooklyn Rider from just a few years ago.
And again we have a different and fresh take on Ireland’s great musical legacy. Whereas The Gloaming have created a unique blend of Irish trad, ambient music and something impossible to label, the music on Peggy’s Dream comes across as a small chamber music ensemble let loose on Irish trad – but with some rules and boundaries to keep the results from becoming eccentric.
In other words, this is very much my kind of music: it explores the tradition and shines various new lights on it but keeps it essentially unbroken. Best of all, the album is very coherent and enjoyable as a sequence. I stress the word “enjoyable” as the music here not only sounds very good but it felt very good, too, although these things are always very individual.
The Common Ground Ensemble plays beautifully with Hayes whose fiddle work extends from “straight from the cabin” trad sound to very refined, classically coloured tones; this man is one of those masters who can point their instrument in any direction, and in a project like this, that ability is very well served.
The opening, The Boyne Water, is a fine introduction to what’s going on here. Beginning with a calm solo piano, the piece builds and builds as it introduces more and more instruments into the flow. As the next piece is a hypnotic, almost – but not quite – American Minimalist reading of The Longford Tinker, the strategy of the project will probably become evident to the listener.
As the album progresses, we are led across a prism of different takes on Irish music, each quite unique; it’s a fascinating 44-minute journey that I would have liked to have lasted longer. My favorite “station” on this journey is the title track, an exquisitely rendered and, to me at least, suitably dreamlike new vision of an old tune. Mental movie time, again.
As the album closes with the very energetic trad feel of Toss the Feathers / The Magerabaun Reel, we are in a sense brought back to square one, the soil and the roots (although there is a lengthy jazz piano solo, too). It’s a dazzling, cathartic ending to an album that is mostly quite restrained.
So, without doubt Peggy’s Dream will be one of the high points of 2023 and I can only wonder where Master Hayes will point his fiddle next…