Live Reviews: Trihornophone

Seán Óg MacErlaine

Live Reviews: Trihornophone

Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray, 23 February 2006

Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray,
23 February 2006

The challenge for Trihornophone was clear from the start: trumpet, alto sax, baritone sax, and drum kit appeared – where’s the rest of the band? Rather, this self-imposed reduced format suits where saxophonist Seán Óg’s compositional voice is at at the moment. Described as pop-orientated but clearly more part of the jazz world, this a relatively new Irish group comprising, as well as Seán Óg, trumpeter Bill Blackmore, baritone saxophonist Kelan Walsh, and drummer Dennis Cassidy.

A musician who has studied with saxophonist Michael Buckley, as well as composition with Ronan Guilfoyle and Stephen Gardner, Trihornophone is one aspect of Seán Óg’s current output, and arguably his most restrained, having engaged in an adventurous array of improvisatory and theatrical projects in recent years. His May 2005 self-titled CD was a wide-ranging affair, many different approaches and sonorities tried, but the basic instinct behind Trihornophone can still be found there – ever-moving chordal sequences constructed with solo brass, underpinned by constant rhythmic movement.

Trihornohone may be a natural development from Seán Óg’s CD, but everything is upped a gear. By the third set in this Mermaid gig – ‘Warp and Woof’ – the band had taken off. The description of them as ‘pop-orientated’ points to the fun there is in this music, and the fact that many of the numbers, certainly in the first half, were no longer than three to five minutes. In the second half, the band moved into more exploratory pieces, in fact the most interesting part of the evening, though probably more so because they had paced the evening so well. ‘Clover’, one of the most striking pieces, grew from a long drum solo and evolved into something sparce but engaging.

While Seán Óg’s solos were always calm and weighty, the inventiveness in particular of Bill Blackmore was striking, while Kelan Walsh drew rich solos from the harmony and ably weaved the group together. Wildness is not a characteristic of Seán Óg’s compositions. Rhythmic perhaps, but always very focused and disciplined. The enthusiastic drumming of Dennis Cassidy, therefore, while at moments essential, was equally prone to drowning out the detailed harmony.

Trihornophone would be difficult to categorise as part of one genre, and if anyone turned up to hear straight jazz, they may have been slightly disorientated, though not disappointed. The problem was that very few did turn up, only 25 perhaps. For a town with a population of 30,000, one is inclined to explain the small attendance by paraphrasing Damien Dempsey: unfortunately, they just don’t teach this shit at school.

Published on 1 May 2006

Toner Quinn is Editor of the Journal of Music. His new book, What Ireland Can Teach the World About Music, is available here.

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