Sean O’Riada‘s place in the pantheon of Irish music has not, in my opinion, been given the prominence it deserves, greater import being ascribed, by critics and others, to the likes of Donal Lunny and Bill Whelan. Not to minimise their achievements, which are many, and significant, but O’Riada refined the art of ensemble playing, exposed Irish music to other influences, and mediated its content and construct with elements, among other things of classical and jazz music. For that alone, he should hold a place of significance in the annals of our muse.
This album is a work in three distinct parts,the first three tracks being private recordings made in Trinity College in 1966, around the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising.The second,and more substantive section,is a 10 track recording of a live concert-his last-in the Aula Maxima at UCD,now the National Concert Hall. As a 20 year old student, I was at that concert,the first time music reduced me to tears ,but by no means the last. The last movement is a collection of 10 short nationalistic themes,none lasting over 90 seconds,most considerably shorter.
This is an incredible album.Here’s what makes it so.In the opening section,on Carraig Donn, it begins simply,building with jazz inflections to a beautiful flourish in the third part,setting the tone for what is to follow.On the title track,which forms part of the concert set,the left hand sets down a defined rhythmwhile the right engages in a series of elaborate improvisations,lending a spookily ethereal quality to proceedings.The tune itself is a most unusual one,and a test piece for soloists,but this truly IS music taken to another dimension.Elsewhere,his work on the Three Sea Captains,played on harpsichord,is possessed of a playful ,extempore feel,chock full of notes ,music with a smile on its face.
The music on this album-remember,some of it recorded almost 50 years ago-is exemplary,not just for the chances he takes with rhythm and melody,but also for the signposts he leaves for others to follow,which many have done.The natural inheritors of what is happening here are bands like The Gloaming and Triúr,the latter of which strongly features his own son Peadar,both of whom have done what he quietly asked,namely to expand the tradition without fear,while retaining its core values.Wonderful,exciting music,which simultaneously engages head and heart,it truly is a contender for Album Of The Year.Stunning.