CD Review: Gerard McChrystal & Craig Ogden – Pluckblow

CD Review: Gerard McChrystal & Craig Ogden – Pluckblow

Gerard McChrystal & Craig Ogden / Pluckblow / Meridian CDE84546

Gerard McChrystal & Craig Ogden
Meridian CDE84546

Here is a disc full of unexpected atmospheres, the straightlaced classical discipline of its formal duo relationship shot through with the decidedly more relaxed attitudes found in jazz and pleasantly suffused by the easy-going reciprocity one asociates with the best folk music.

Of necessity, Derry-born Gerard McChrystal and Australian Craig Ogden have had to create a repertoire for their peculiar pairing of saxophone and guitar. Pluckblow, their first album together, collates some of the works that have been written for the two, or arranged by them.

The reach is international, with contributions from Australia, Germany, the UK and, happily, substantially, from Ireland. The title track (composed in 2002) courtesy of Belfast man Greg Caffrey, requires McChrystal to dance around Ogden with a teasingly playful rhythmic vitality that polishes the music’s surface sheen to disguise the intricately constructed underpinning. Caffrey’s Skipping (2006) delightfully takes the playfulness one step further.

Ian Wilson’s brittle miniatures Tern and Icarus (both from 2005) are ‘two short songs without words [that follow] the rhythmic and emotional contours’ of two poems by John Burnside. Where Tern takes quiet delight in quotidian detail, Icarus offers a sun-dappled portrait of over-reaching vanity.

Dubliner Ciaran Farrell’s three-movement Shannon Suite began life in 1996 as a piece for solo guitar and was revised last year. It carries itself with a liquescent vitality expressed in a free-flowing pellucid sax line punctuated by the darting rush and becalmed stillness of the guitar, and in which both soloists are admirably nimble and nuanced.

Australian Stuart Greenbaum’s Cloud Eight (1995; revised 2005) is an aspirational dialogue grounded – but not defeated – by brute reality, the resulting melancholia-tinged conversation concluding with an elated reverie that redeems and rewards.

The oddly titled Nemesis (1996-98; revised 2005) by Andy Scott, a 2006 British Composer Award-winner, arranged here by the performers, has guitar replacing the originally conceived vibraphone, with Ogden delivering pinprick jazz and latin pungency against the improvisatory contemporary classical accent demanded of McChrystal.

Scot Billy Cowie’s three Romances (1997; revised 2005) are intimate in scale (all are under two minutes in length) and tone, the guitar an eloquent substitution for the original piano voice. Imagine Dowland re-scored by Peter Maxwell Davies and you’ll come close to the charming sincerity and endearing warmth of these delightful pieces. The mysterious, transformational Incantation (2003) of Englishman Tony Davis is hauntingy delivered and Germany’s Ulrich Schultheiss’s No Rest – a showstopper at last year’s Belfast Festival – concludes the disc in feisty, fun-filled fashion, sax and guitar colourfully sparring with each other.

Amidst the plaudits, I do have one reservation: that the often too under-stated guitar could have been recorded a touch closer or pushed higher in the mix throughout. A small cavil about an otherwise entertaining disc.

Published on 1 March 2007

Michael Quinn is a freelance music and theatre journalist based in Co. Down.

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