In Two – Mike Nielsen and Tommy Halferty

A review of a new recording by two of Ireland's finest jazz guitarists.

Guitarists Mike Nielsen and Tommy Halferty are no strangers to the Irish Jazz scene. Halferty’s incendiary style lends itself to his Franco-Irish organ trio, while his group Rhythms of Bahia demonstrates his love of Brazilian music. Mike Nielsen’s exploratory nature is perhaps best captured with the GuiIfoyle/Nielsen Trio, a group that has worked with many Jazz luminaries including Dave Liebman, and last year Joe Lovano, as part of the Dublin Jazz Week.

In Two is a superb opportunity to hear these two world-class players in a truly intimate setting. For this Improvised Music Company release they have put aside their electric guitars, and instead Halferty plays steel string acoustic, while Nielsen plays finger-style on a classical instrument.

From the very first track, a beautiful, thoughtful reworking of the Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’, the sound is wonderful. Nielsen’s rich flurries of colour evoke beating wings, and the two guitars weave among each other with breath-taking poise and subtlety.

Tommy Halferty’s waltz ‘Pulcrea’ is an ethereal, exquisite piece. ‘All of Me’ is carried with a bright humour, both musicians improvising with lightning virtuosity – a real joy. The CD also acts as a showcase for Mike Nielsen’s compositional skills. He contributes six of the ten tunes. Pieces like ‘Evens’ and ‘July Blues’ brim and bubble under well-measured restraint, while’ Arkendale detour’ is quasi-cinematic in the mood it conjures up. Nielsen’s samba ‘Only one life’, features himself alone over-dubbed – his solo dancing over the line between dark and bright with great aplomb.

‘Innocence’, a tasteful ballad, seems to contain hints of Martino’s ‘Estate’ (but that could be my imagination). Similarly, ‘U-turn’ has a ring of ‘Blue Monk’ to it, but is none the worse for it! The production throughout is crystal-clear, the two guitars sounding distinct and uncluttered. By turn sparse and spacious, then densely textured, the material is handled with depth, unity and enormous musicality. On the whole, an enormously listenable album.

First published in JMI: The Journal of Music in Ireland, Vol. 1 No. 2 (Jan–Feb 2001), p. 9.

Published on 1 January 2001

Seán MacErlaine is a Dublin based saxophonist and composer working in improvised music.

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