Vibrant celtic acoustica to blow away complacency and cobwebs alike.
Release date: 24th June 2022
Sometimes, just sometimes, there is just so much vim in otherwise routinely excellent tradition as to raise it, head and shoulders, above the parapets of excellence already abounding. This is the state of Irish/Scottish music at present, it taking something a bit different to stand out, with this recording sitting up, standing up and shouting out to be noticed. And I think it will be.
The name Tina Jordan Rees I don’t know. Apparently, were I an expert or aficionado in the field of Irish dancing, she’s apparently a household name in such circles. This, however, reflects on another of her talents, that of a flute and whistle player, the basis of this brassy and bouncy disc. Joined by Sean Gray’s guitars, the bodhran of Lea Larson and Mr Capability himself, James Lindsay, on bass, this record calls immediately to mind the work of flute tooter extraordinaire, Michael McGoldrick, so good and so exhilarating it is.
Like so many recent releases, the seed germinated in lockdown, itself an unwelcome postscript to a tussle with bowel cancer, at 30, and that, thankfully, she was able to beat. All the energy and all the joy, denied any other outlet, was poured into the composition of this record, all the tunes self-composed. Beatha is the Gaelic for life, the circumstance celebrated, the Gaelic as she is an adopted Irish Gael, initially from Lancashire to Limerick, and now resident in Glasgow.
As with many instrumental works, without the distraction of lyrics, there is no particular “correct interpretation” of the songs, with your mind free to go where the melodies steer. What about the titles? Well, here, as is often, they are little more, it seems, than aide memoires to the initial inspiration: a place, a moment in time, or, very much in the Scottish tradition, the name of the person to who the tune was composed for and/or why. So, a title like The Squirrel Returns is no overt prompt as to what to expect. But, from the opening salvo, it is a lively whistle tune over-strummed guitar, the bodhran clipping in, effortlessly, after a few bars. At least, I think it a whistle, the problem with expert players being that my cloth ears find it sometimes difficult to discern. So, to the woodwind police, go easy on me. It swaps tack, midsection, into more syncopated air, KPC. (As I said, me neither.)
Ducks At Luss/House 108 is a more thoughtful pairing. Flute, I feel sure, Sean Gray’s picking interesting enough to be more than mere accompaniment, Larson and Lindsay again slot in a few bars late, as if they have been waiting, as indeed they might have, to assess the direction of flow, giving a lovely sessional feel to it all. some subtle electric guitar tones to swell out the second part. Some say all this sort of music sounds all the same and they can get right out now. Swiftly. They are wrong. The triad of G’s Reel/Tripod’s Frolics and Nan Lian Garden starts just as you’d imagine, all twinkly tones to enliven twinkly toes. Still, the standard quartet arrangements control a mere step ahead of abandon, with a rhythmic punch to the second section. Who said stand up bass and bodhran can’t rock? Not for the last time, an oriental twist latterly creeps in, the title suggestive of a Thai trip. (Ed: Hong King, actually.) And if you are craving a change, it is with piano Jordan Rees now turns, for Copenhagen Cycles/Visits From Stanley, the stepping rhythm thereof perhaps more of a pedal, depending on which sort of cycle you are choosing to believe it is about. It doesn’t matter, her whistle play over the top giving a pause for reverie. It works well, giving the band a breather.
Sean and Paul’s Welcome Back To The Weeg is such a good tune title that, frankly, could be any old cock and i’d still love it. But, tacked along with Beach Party and Fuinneamh, it is anything but, a counterpointed flute dance over the strummed guitar and spiky bass of Gray and Lindsay, with Larson all of a clutter in the background. Upping the jazzy riff of the rhythm section, Jordan Rees accelerates into that party, with Fuinneamh being the name, I gather, of a full-on ethno-festival of music and arts, in Co. Louth, a condensation and distillation of Glastos’s Green Field hippy/traveler vibe in the Irish countryside. As you experience that moment, Cable cCrs/Ngong Ping Brolly/Rainbow Flats sidesteps into a complete change of scenery and style, a lurching gypsy jazz swing through more Far Eastern addresses, pounding piano and energetic flute leading the way. The boys pick up any slack as the tunes meander further into the crowd, the realisation that Jordan Rees really is a class act. Still in the same neck of the woods, Phuket Tuk Tuk/Superknit gives Gray another chance to demonstrate his picking, briefly, ahead the whistle, bass and bodhran get their respective feet down. (Am I over-egging this metaphor?)
Beatha/Sunset Skies is, I guess, in part, the title track, and ought, thus to exercise the life celebrated. A piano phrase introduces a lingering and lilting whistle, the feel of a reminisce and a reminder; live it while you have it, perhaps, for you know not what tomorrow may bring. The second part gives the feel of that moment when remission is confirmed, the leap of joy and hope rekindled. I could listen to this sort of music all day. Ugly Sea/The New Inn/Ubiquitous Tunes, the last another great title of deprecation, is far from ugly, but some elements of a storm are invoked, perhaps from out the window the aforesaid inn. Who cannot resist bad weather outside, when in front a roaring fire in a heaving hostelry? A friday night dance of a trio, the final part contains snatches of all the melodies you carry home in your ear, after just that sort of night. Which allows the closer, Erik’s/Cooking 6/4, to have a slow wake up in the morning vibe, mellow reflection on all before, the title then giving fair warning of how the mood is likely to turn. Which, on a sixpence, it does, with an effervescent jig to close proceedings, with a truly wonderful syncopated rhythmic piano conclusion.
I guess I find myself waxing freely and frothily about a record and about a name new to me. Don’t blame me, blame the artist. Tina Jordan Rees is a name I feel will need to be reckoned with. Get her and these guys out on the festival circuit, and they will shake up some of the old school. Fèistastic, which, incidentally, is the name of her earlier dance instruction discs and projects.
Here’s Nan Lian Garden, amongst others, from her Soundcloud page.