Live Reviews: Roger Doyle, Cormac Breatnach and Martin Dunlea

Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray, 29th September 2005

There is a sense that the diverse universes of music in this country appear to co-exist in polite parallel, often touching but never fully merging. Despite the integration of adjacent and often disparate methods, many such fusions result in a mild blend of clichéd appropriation rather then in a wholehearted relinquishing of style to create something new. Of course there are remarkable exceptions, both of groups and individuals, who have pushed these boundaries or have at least confronted the inherent dangers synonymous with such leaps.

So bravo then, to Roger Doyle, Cormac Breatnach and Martin Dunlea, who decided to team up on a musical adventure and present their own blend of contemporary and traditional music. All three are based in County Wicklow and it was in the Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray that they showcased their collaborations. Breatnach (whistles) and guitarist Dunlea’s association is already well established and the concert’s first quarter was a selection of their own repertoire. There is no doubt both are first-rate musicians, but I find it difficult to appreciate this particular blend of traditional music performed in an environment where copious reverb effect is the norm. In addition, while Dunlea’s playing is all restraint, Breatnach tends to break into jazzy extemporisations which are just too sweet and polite for my ears.

For the second quarter, Doyle played a selection of his own works on the piano accompanied throughout by a CD and occasionally also a sampler. Unlike most composers, Doyle is remarkable in his ability and Three pieces for pupils who don’t like exams provides a relatively accessible entrance point for those not familiar with his work. Worrying however is Doyle’s insistence on playing piano over pre-recorded works whose original charm lay primarily in an innovative approach to timbre. No doubt the impetus here is to provide a live performance element to these by now classic Doyle works (and he performs them brilliantly), but in doing so he replaces the previously impressive foreground with a much less interesting piano, and a poor sounding digital one at that. Of the four pieces performed, Budawanny Variations connects most with a traditional Irish music approach while Ten Themes, Doyle’s most recent work for solo piano, connects and is inspired by a selection of past loves.

The concert’s second half saw all three take the stage to perform two works by Breatnach, two by Dunlea, one by Doyle and one traditional. For me, Dunlea’s beautiful Sue’s Hornpipe & Last Train was the highlight, while Doyle’s Lettuce is my Hair, well watered was an exciting fast paced adventure, let down only by the sound engineers reluctance to let all hell break loose. The one element lacking at this event was a collaborative composition, but perhaps we’ll get this the next time. After all, it seems the experiment is only just starting.

Published on 1 November 2005

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