An outstanding Opening Concert at Celtic Connections – Review by Pauline Keightley
An innovative, multi-talented orchestra put a smile on my face.
Martyn Bennett’s GRIT, his last celtic fusion album before his untimely death in 2003, was given its live premier with a colourful score by composer Greg Lawson – the concert was one of the best events I’ve ever attended at Celtic Connections.
The concert marked the tenth anniversary of Bennet’s death at the age of thirty-three. The extraordinary album offers a musical journey – producing pounding bass rhythms, humour, hesitant strings, gradual and fast crescendos, brass epic grandeur; haunting Gaelic voices and thematic stirring pipes. The GRIT album is about pushing boundaries and the orchestra of over 80 musicians certainly did it justice.
The folk, jazz and classical musicians clearly enjoyed playing a new piece that felt simultaneously contemporary and rich in past traditions.
In the first half songs from the album were performed by a cast of accomplished singers – the Quebec quartet Le Vent Du Nord began with strong harmonies; they were followed by Fiona Hunter who sang Berry Fields of Blair and Young Emslie with Mike Vass on guitar; Rab Noakes sang MacPherson’s Rant and To Each and Everyone of You. Gaelic singer Isabel Ann Martin sang a beautiful version of the song Faisg air Gloir accompanied by Donald Shaw on piano.
For the second half the full orchestra played the entire GRIT album. Lawson commented that folk music draws strongly on solid music roots, but like a river needs to play and experiment in order not to stay stagnant and to be brought into the modern age.
On Blackbird Faisg air Gloir male choral voices were brought into the modern age with African drumbeats, resonating textures and bass beats. On the track Why there were soothing strings, clarinet and Karen Matheson haunting voice. The Wedding Track was heart breaking and began with hesitant, subdued strings followed by dramatic saxaphone.
Bennet’s music shifted on its axis taking sound into new orbits – ground breaking and energizing. For anyone who thinks folk music is backward looking this highly innovative concert, with jazz, rock elements, classical and Gaelic songs, might have changed their mind.
I have never seen an orchestra bobbing up and down and enjoying themselves so much – especially all those eight double bass players!
The audience had a great time too.
This section: Celtic Connections 2015, Pauline Keightley
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