By Daniel Neely
Last week I visited NYC’s Irish Arts Center and saw the group This Is How We Fly perform. It was a wonderful evening of powerful chamber-trad music from one of the most innovative and intriguing groups in Irish music. Fiddle player Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and clarinetist Seán Mac Erlaine both performed brilliantly (as did the evening’s guest, fiddler Cleek Schrey) and set a deeply creative, timbrally rich and wonderfully rewarding tone with their onstage musical conversation. I was particularly taken by the interplay between dancer Nic Gareiss and percussionist Petter Berndalen, whose fluid and dynamic interplay was as melodic as it was percussive. Should you ever have the opportunity, take advantage and see This Is How We Fly – they’re a special group that puts on a superb, engrossing show.
Speaking of clarinetists, “The New Blackthorn Stick” is the new album from clarinetist Andy Lamy. It is surely the world’s first album of traditional music solely devoted to the clarinet and one for people looking for something rooted in a familiar approach with a different sort of musical edge.
Lamy is perhaps best known in the world of orchestral music, where he is well accomplished and carries a sterling reputation both as a performer and a teacher. He plays for example, with the New Jersey Symphony and is a founding member of the Halcyon Trio, but he’s collaborated widely with organizations like the Metropolitan Opera and with groups like the Artis Quartet of Vienna, and he has taught at the Juilliard School, among other places.
In recent years he’s become involved with the world of traditional Irish music and in that time, he’s encountered and befriended some of the world’s finest musicians, many of whom appear here. The list of distinguished notables includes, among others, Dylan Foley and Pat Mangan (fiddle); John Nolan and John Whelan (button accordions); Kevin Crawford (flute and whistle); Jerry O’Sullivan (pipes); Gabriel Donohue (bouzouki and piano); and Greg Anderson and John Walsh (guitars). Each of these players complement Lamy’s playing well and add a feel for the music that trad fans will find familiar.
“The New Blackthorn Stick” offers much to take in and enjoy. “Gallagher’s Frolics / …,” for example, is a lovely set of three jigs that features Mary Bergin (whistle) and Lamy playing together in tight formation. Another great track is the hornpipe set “Caisleán an Óir / …,” on which Brian Conway appears. There, the timbres of the fiddle and clarinet blend beautifully and project a gravitas which does the tunes proper justice.
I particularly liked Lamy’s pastoral whistle and clarinet-based take on the song “Come By The Hills” on which the great Corkman Donie Carroll sings. Carroll is excellent here and his voice fits well with Lamy’s arrangement on what is the album’s only vocal track.
Perhaps the album’s most compelling moment, however, is “An Tiarna Mhaigh Eo (Lord Mayo),” a slow air Lamy took from the playing of the great Donegal fiddler Néilidh Boyle. There, he’s joined by Dermot Byrne (button accordion), Haley Richardson (fiddle), Mike Stewart (viola), Florian Blancke (harp) and Jonathan Storck (bass), who come together to create a lush, dreamlike musical texture that is easy to get lost in.
“The New Blackthorn Stick” is a provocative take on the music that showcases Lamy’s virtuosic talents admirably. His passion for the music is completely apparent throughout the album’s whopping 17 tracks, and a high level of musicianship is maintained throughout. While the clarinet may not end up taking the world of trad by storm, this record (not to mention its use in groups like This Is How We Fly) shows well what the instrument is capable of. “The New Blackthorn Stick” is available through CD Baby, for more information about Lamy, visit www.andrewlamy.com.
Daniel Neely is the Echo’s traditional music columnist