Seán Mac Erlaine


CD CHOICE:Long After the Music Is Gone Ergodos****

It opens with a primal howl, a strange, otherworldly sound, laden with overtones and guttural textures, like some mythic beast raising its head above a distant horizon. And that, perhaps, is how Long After the Music Is Gone was conceived.

Dublin saxophonist Seán Mac Erlaine has been stalking the metaphorical outlands of improvised music for the past decade. To make this extraordinary solo recording, he took himself off to the literal wilds of Co Leitrim, where he allowed the lonely beauty of the landscape to seep into his music.

MacErlaine is consistently one of the most interesting and adventurous musicians of his generation, and his sometimes very abstract music has always preserved a human quality that engages audiences and wins him admirers in other genres. In particular, his recent work with fiddler Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh in the group This Is How We Fly has opened him up to the Irish tradition, and if there is a discernible reference point in Long After the Music Is Gone, it is the earthy, melancholic spirit that he has drawn from traditional music.

“I’ve become very interested in Irish music,” Mac Erlaine notes, “through working with people who know it well and can explain what they are doing with it. It just seems like a deep well that people like me haven’t really engaged with before. I don’t have any ambitions to play the repertoire as such, but just to take some abstraction of the essence of what makes it beautiful.”

That he has done. At times Mac Erlaine’s saxophones and clarinets, sparsely interwoven with electronics and percussion effects, take on a vocal quality, recalling the combination of pathos and technical bravura of piping and sean-nós singing. In among his own compositions and improvisations there is a beautiful reading of the traditional air Amhrán na Leabhar, learnt from local musicians in Dromahair.

Mac Erlaine draws from other wells, ranging from 12th-century choral composer Hildegard Von Bingen to Scandinavian jazz and the classical avant garde. There are no words, no other players, and little in the way of recognisable structures, and yet this is a very approachable recording, a sonic meditation that requires no context or explanation.

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