By Earle Hitchner
MARTIN HAYES AND DENNIS CAHILL, plus Anam. At Fez Under Time Cafe, 380 Lafayette St., NYC, Jan. 9.
Martin Hayes’s fiddling is like good poetry: it draws you in through rhythm and meaning, sound and substance, hinting at thoughts and feelings far beneath the surface of the work, and allowing you to tap into your own thoughts and feelings in a way that intensifies the entire experience.
With long hair and upper torso swaying as he bows his instrument, Hayes nearly fits the Rimbaud-like role of poet. But he is no mere ‘sthete. What he seeks is the pure drop in his fiddling, and he tries to eliminate the scrim between reality and art by getting as close as possible to the melody’s essence. Small wonder, then, that the imagination, eloquence, and subtly shifting tempos he brings to his playing often induce a near dreamlike state of attention in listeners.
From Maghera, between Feakle and Tulla in County Clare, and later a resident of Chicago and now Seattle, Hayes has found an ideal partner in guitarist Dennis Cahill, who was a past member with the fiddler in a Chicago rock band called Midnight Court. The three-chord trappings of rock are long gone, and in their place is a remarkable, near-synaptic line of communication between the players.
Each musician reacted instinctively and deftly to changes in dynamics this evening, particularly during an extended medley of reels that included "My Maryann" and "Toss the Feathers." The two jigs of "Tell Her I Am/Gallagher’s Frolics" were also performed with sinuous grace, and Hayes’s lively bowing of "The Graf Spey" reel showed he could put his fiddling into overdrive with the best of them. The night proved there’s no more impressive partnership in Irish instrumental music today than Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill.
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Opening for the duo was Anam, an Edinburgh-based band comprising two musicians from Ireland, two from Scotland, and one from Cornwall. It was their New York City debut as well as their debut as a quintet, and they gave a genial, if tentative, performance. Further intensive touring as a quintet should reduce some of the awkwardness present in their set this night.