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CD Review Blurred ‘Vision’ by Aislinn

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Earle Hitchner

AISLINN, by the Celtic Jazz Collective, Mapleshade Records CD 08032,

toll-free phone number: 1-888-236-2753.

"Throw paint at canvas; hope that pattern emerges" is how one journalistic wag described the first few issues of the resuscitated Vanity Fair magazine back in the early 1980s. The same line could also describe the Celtic Jazz Collective’s "Aislinn" ("Vision") on Mapleshade, a small audiophile label in Upper Marlboro, Md., that prides itself on no mixing board, overdubs, compression, equalization, reverb, noise reduction, filtering, or multitracking.

Back in May 2000, I favorably reviewed one of the concerts given at Manhattan’s Jazz Standard by the Celtic Jazz Collective, formed by Dublin-born jazz guitarist David O’Rourke and American jazz drummer Lewis Nash. At first blush, mixing jazz with Irish traditional music seemed incongruous, since jazz heavily relies on improvization while

Irish traditional music often relies on melodies played with little or no improvization in group settings.

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But what I heard at the Jazz Standard — O’Rourke, Nash, jazz bassist Peter Washington, pianist Fintan O’Neill, percussionist Steve Kroon, N.Y.C. button accordionist Martin

Reilly, and former Bothy Band uilleann piper Paddy Keenan, all of whom appear on the album — showed potential for successfully bridging these two genres if more rehearsal and thought were applied.

Neither is apparent on "Aislinn." The Irish traditional players (Keenan, Reilly, concertinist Niall Vallely, fiddler Fiona Doherty, bouzouki player Terry McKee) and the jazz players (O’Rourke, Nash, Washington, O’Neill, Kroon, pianist Larry Willis, bassist Ronan Guilfoyle) occupy the same musical space without ever genuinely collaborating or communicating. The result is sounds and rhythms careering like a driverless bus from Irish to jazz or jazz to Irish.

Where that bus hurtles off the highway is in "The Kid on the Mountain," an Irish traditional slip jig performed by Keenan on pipes, then O’Rourke on electric guitar, backed by piano, drums, and bass jarringly at odds in rhythm with Keenan’s playing. The same rhythm problem mars "Old As the Hills/King of the Pipers/Whinny Hills of Leitrim," where Niall Vallely’s superb concertina playing can’t find a comfortable groove with the swirl of jazz riffs around it. Martin Reilly’s box playing is likewise overwhelmed by the Afro-Cuban swing arrangement of "The Old Bush/Kiss the Maid Behind the Barrel/Master Crowley."

The tracks that work best are, not surprisingly, the three without any Irish traditional instrumentation: "Planxty Charles O’Conor," nimbly deconstructed by O’Rourke on electric guitar and ex-Nat Adderley Quintet member Larry Willis on piano; Seán Ó Riada’s "Beannaigh Sinn a Athair/An Pheadair," featuring O’Rourke on electric guitar and O’Neill on piano in a simple, spare arrangement; and John Field’s "Nocturne in B-flat Major," given a tangy bossa nova treatment by O’Rourke, Nash, O’Neill, and Washington.

What’s so vexing about this recording is that exceptional talent is so unexceptionally served. Nash and Washington, formerly in a trio headed by brilliant bop-bred pianist Tommy Flanagan, are at the top of their profession, while Keenan and Vallely have few equals on their instruments in Irish traditional music. Despite playing so well individually, they clash collectively, and that’s not just a pity–it’s a lost opportunity.

Aspiring to blend Irish traditional melodies and instrumentation with jazz rhythms, harmonies, and instrumentation, "Aislinn" is, sadly, an album falling far short of the vision inspiring it.

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