National Concert Hall
THE AIR of anticipation that greeted The Gloaming on their debut was met with an equally freighted desire by the five musicians on stage to excavate something special.
Taking a brace of traditional tunes as their starting point, Martin Hayes and his newly convened compadres took an audacious leap of faith into the unknown – and in that leap, drew their audience into a magnetic underworld where light and dark, old and new coalesced to compelling effect.
The impermanence of this union further sharpened its focus and its impact. Born of a conversation between Hayes and sean nós singer, Iarla Ó Lionáird (of the “we really should work together some time” variety), The Gloaming fully exploited the rich sonic possibilities which Thomas Bartlett’s piano, Dennis Cahill’s guitar and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh’s fiddles brought to the party.
The warmth of Ó Lionáird’s voice was immediately evident, as were the show-stopping impact of Vermont-born Bartlett’s lines on the piano, an instrument which has long evoked extreme reactions from fans of traditional music. At times, the piano adds substance to a set, but at others, players can bludgeon melody lines into damp submission.
Bartlett’s approach was discerning: picking out the skeleton of the tune, leaving its sinew and muscle for others to chew over (Dennis Cahill seemed to relish his percussive company enormously).
At other times, he was daringly florid, and this too served the tunes well, particularly when he chose to exploit their dark underbelly.
The Gloaming’s newly forged songs were a revelation. A rendering of Michael Hartnett’s Muince An Dreoilín/A Necklace of Wrenssoared on the back of Ó Lionáird’s beautiful Munster Irish, as did the deliciously rough-edged Samhradh.
Hayes and Ó Raghallaigh are two immensely differing fiddlers but both are fearless in their pursuit of mood music.
Amid a flurry of tenderly chosen tunes, the two fiddles loped effortlessly through The Sailor’s Bonnet, its essence unpicked and then reconstituted with the delicacy and affection of musicians still struggling to know fully their own musical inheritance.
This was music of an entirely different hue: neither slavishly traditional nor wilfully contemporary, it sought out uncharted terrain (some of which was undoubtedly familiar) – and, most impressively, welcomed their audience as essential passengers on that journey.