By Daniel Neely
From Ireland, Buille is one of the most creative groups in Irish music today. Consisting of Niall Vallely (concertina), Caoimhín Vallely (piano), Ed Boyd (guitar), Brian Morrissey (percussion), and Kenneth Edge (soprano sax), the group makes extraordinary and sophisticated music and they’re back at it with a new CD, “Buille Beo.” Recorded live at the Ionad Cultúrtha in Baile Bhúirne, West Cork, it is a thoroughly modern album which is an intense meditation on traditional music, creativity and musical cosmopolitanism.
Virtually all the music on “Buille Beo" is newly composed by the Vallely brothers, Niall and Caoimhín, who were brought up steeped in traditional music. (Their parents Brian and Eithne Valley founded the Armagh Pipers' Club, one Ireland’s oldest traditional music schools.) So while indeed there is a strong traditional streak in both brothers’ playing, Buille’s music seems to be about finding common creative ground between diverse stylistic frameworks than taking a singular musical approach. This ability to make metrical shift here or an innovative harmony there allows the Vallelys’ compositions to dance between traditional, conservatory/art and jazz-based musical aesthetics.
Niall’s tunes are impressive in their scope. Take, for example, “Cathair Geal,” a complex composition that moves between several different meters, but includes a fantastically nuanced middle section that deconstructs the tune. The sound of Niall’s concertina and his sense of phrasing suggests a “traditional” influence, but Caoimhín’s piano voicings, Edge’s sax and Boyd and Morrissey’s groove pull it in different directions. It’s heady stuff with a lot going on and the band brings it all to great life.
Caoimhín’s compositions are equally interesting. “The 3 Hallions” is a lovely three-part tune given an interesting set of arranged variations, while “Whatso,” a play on Miles Davis’s classic piece “So What” (the second of two nods toward Davis on the album), begins by echoing what Bill Evans did on Davis’s original recording, but departs from its modal structure fairly handily into something more textured and harmonically expansive.
There are two tracks Niall and Caoimhín co-composed, “Belharbour” and “Cloudy Moves,” which are both fascinating. Although written in jig time, the former’s melody bridges bar lines to evoke the impressionistic qualities of Debussy’s “Arabesque No. 1,” while the latter employs an unusual time signature to create a groove somewhat akin to the one Dave Brubeck created on "Blue Rondo à la Turk.”
Buille is on to something great here with “Buille Beo." The album delivers thoughtful, erudite and exquisitely delivered Irish music that has an utterly contemporary and original feel. Anyone looking for something new and exciting should check it out, visit www.buille.com to learn more.
Speaking of Niall Vallely’s compositions, he’s recently released “Malfunction Junction,” a new tunebook of his own work. Fans of Vallely will recognize many of the book’s tunes from recordings he’s made with the groups Nomos and Buille, with his brothers Cillian and Caoimhín, and on his own. Of the book’s 101 tunes, 47 are published here for the first time.
The book begins with a brief statement from Vallely about his background and his compositional approach, which provides interesting artistic insight. However, it’s founding director of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance in the University of Limerick Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin’s lovely foreword that puts Vallely’s work into fuller context and gives us a sense of its gravity.
Vallely’s tunes are presented in fairly bare bones fashion: no harmonies, no ornamentation, and very little commentary, a gesture that would seem to accommodate interpretation. Several of Vallely’s more widely known works, including “Malfunction Junction,” “Muireann’s Jig,” and The Oblique Jig,” which have been recorded by Lúnasa, Michael McGoldrick/John McCusker/John Doyle, Kan, and the Alan Kelly Gang, appear here, as do some of his perhaps lesser known, but no less interesting tunes, like “Betty Gluaisteán,” “Sunnyside” and “Sailing From Rathmullen.”
One of the most interesting inclusions is the first movement of “Singing Stream,” a piece for four sets of uilleann pipes. Although the indication is that it can be played by any manner of traditional instrument, the harmonies as played by pipes are scintillating. Great stuff, indeed.
Vallely has a unique and identifiable compositional voice. His more straightforward tunes have an openness about them that invites creative complexity, while his more involved pieces carry the sort of melodic breeziness that eludes lesser artists. There is definitely a good bit of excellent material here, just waiting for the intrepid tune collector to discover. For information about buying “Malfunction Junction,” visit www.crowvalleymusic.com.