Live Reviews: Martin Hayes, Dennis Cahill & Bill Frisell

The Hayes/Cahill brand has extended far beyond the conventional audience for traditional music, a fact that makes them natural candidates for crossover experiments such as the recent series of gigs with guitarist Bill Frisell. The last episode in this three-venue short tour, presented by Note Productions, filled Cork Opera House with expectation. Like voyeurs at a first date, we wondered how the new partners would get on.

Martin Hayes opened the show with a stark solo version of ‘Port na bPúcaí’. We were treated to the now-familiar Hayes modus operandi, building from a simple first round through a stage-by-stage development of the straights and curves of this ethereal air. A whiff of rosin, caught in the Opera House lights, added to the enchantment. ‘The good news is that that’s as sad as it gets,’ he said as he finished, immediately breaking the spell.

Bill Frisell comes across as an unassuming, silver-haired gentleman. He also proves himself a superb musician with an exquisite touch. He carved ‘Moon River’ into slivers and reconstructed the song independently of its time signature. Frisell held up the familiar and showed us something totally new. ‘Hard Times’ and ‘Shenandoah’ both benefited from the Frisell renovation method. But he brought a box of digital tricks with him that tended to detract from his undoubted skill set. Apart from the obvious delay effects and the increasingly common cascade effect, he used a loop recording mechanism that allowed him to record a basic track and then to layer extra tracks on top, ad infinitum. While this device could have presented some interesting possibilities, here it acted as a musical straight jacket, with cleverness giving way to self-indulgence. Frisell was joined by Dennis Cahill for a two-guitar jaunt, which was long and rambling, like a late night jam in a student gaff, albeit of a particularly high quality.

In the second half, things took off, with all three musicians weaving a multi-layered, multi-faceted performance. Hayes and Cahill did what they do best – Irish traditional music with added flavours and unexpected twists and turns. We heard a continuum of airs flowing into reels into jigs, back into reels. The melody dominated for a time, then faded into the background, before re-establishing itself for the final assault. Hayes’ fiddle remains as persuasive as ever, transcending mere technique. Cahill’s guitar provides both foundation and superstructure – solid and constantly inventive. Frisell superimposes extra layers. He copies the melody on occasion; he adds a high electric drone; he drives the rhythm; he interjects fills and seams and bubbles to create an intriguing boiling effect. Then the compliment was returned. We had a two guitar plus fiddle version of Frisell’s ‘Tell Your Ma, Tell Your Pa’. We had ‘East Clare versions’ of Thelonious Monk, ‘East Clare version’ being a well-known diversionary tactic aimed at heading off the folk (and probably jazz) police.

The musicians clearly enjoyed themselves; so, too, did their audience. But, despite the presence of so many sparks, the evening failed to ignite fully. Perhaps the venue was too big and impersonal. Perhaps more time in each other’s company would have resulted in a more integrated fusion. Or perhaps some musical genres are simply mutually exclusive.

Published on 1 July 2007

Pat Ahern is a musician and producer. He lectures in mathematics at Cork Institute of Technology.

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