CD Review: "Triúr Aris" by Peadar Ó Riada, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, and Martin Hayes

Triúr Aris. 2012. Arranged and performed by Peadar Ó Riada, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, and Martin Hayes. Realworld Publishing: design by Edel Butler, printing by Dutec, and photography by Seán Ó Loinsigh. 20 tunes on 18 tracks with liner notes, color photographs, and website links.

In any album of newly composed music, we can analyze a superimposition of three temporal states: past, present, and future. In other words, musical creativity encompasses a process that links contemporary musical performance to the past, articulates forms in a recontextualized present, and reinscribes what a genre might mean for a newly emerging generation of musicians. This temporal linkage aptly describes the music heard on Triúr Aris (Three Again), a new album by Irish musicians Peadar Ó Riada, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, and Martin Hayes. The first cd by the group (2010), Triúr Sa Draighean (Three in the Blackthorn), drew a great deal of attention among listeners of Irish traditional music. This was due not only to the high profile of the three collaborating artists within the Irish music scene, but also to the great publicity generated by the creation of a full-length documentary by filmmaker Dónal Ó Céilleachair, who follows the musicians as they discuss, compose, arrange, perform, and reflect on Irish music. The musicians return in Triúr Aris with twenty newly composed pieces by Peadar Ó Riada. The structure of the pieces on the new album in addition to the performances by the musicians are a great nod to “the tradition,” while the weaving instrumentation and brilliant textural arrangements provide us with an indication of the broad palette of expression available to contemporary performers of Irish traditional music.

Triúr Aris presents several departures from what might be considered the typical mold for albums produced in the genre of Irish traditional music. First, the album is comprised entirely of newly composed works. The majority of Irish traditional music albums incorporate a selection of dance tunes and airs, many of which are already familiar to the listener, from the thousands of pieces that have already been composed. It is not uncommon for an album of Irish traditional music to feature many newly composed pieces; however, an album of completely new work is less common. A second departure of Triúr Aris is that most of the tracks on the album are comprised of single tunes. More typically, albums of Irish traditional music consist of roughly twelve tracks that are presented as “sets” of 2-3 tunes of the same classification of dance (i.e. jigs, reels, polkas, hornpipes, etc.) merged into medleys. Lastly, the musicians of Triúr employ several instruments that do not feature readily in Irish traditional music. These include the harpsichord, Indian tanbura, and the hardanger fiddle.

The uniqueness of Triúr Aris reflects a drive on part of the musicians to highlight the core elements of Irish traditional music, or alternatively, what in the music makes it Irish. Indeed, in the liner notes for the album, Peadar writes, that “as with the first compact disk, all the music here was formed and woven out of our Irish culture and language” (Ó Riada 2012). Part of what the artists express as uniquely Irish in their music is alluded to in the title of the aforementioned documentary. Ag Cuardach Crot Ceoil (In Search of Musical Form) points to the cyclical form of Irish traditional music. “Cyclicism” in Irish traditional music is achieved temporally and through the manner of performance. In the first sense, Irish dance pieces (typically composed in an AABB, 32-bar form) are repeated or “returned” to in the time of the performance. In the second sense, the performance of the melody is spontaneously varied with each consecutive cycle, thereby departing from the characteristically linear progression of notated music.

Performers of Irish traditional music, depending on personal (or collective) taste, can draw attention to the melody and to the rhythmic drive of the music in different ways by the extent and manner in which they vary the melody with each repetition of a tune, ornament the melody, play “behind” or “in front” of the beat, group notes into phrases, set the tempo, or effect other transformations. An extremely great amount of choices for expression are therefore presented in the performance of a single piece of Irish music. In Triúr Aris, the single-tune track organization and the moderate tempo of performance both contribute to the highlighting of the melody, and by extension, the cyclicism described above. The single tracks allow for a focus on a solitary piece through its development in consecutive repetition, and the moderate tempo helps the listener to appreciate the variations. Normally, however, there is a precedent for variation in a performance of a particular piece that is offered by other “settings” or performances of the same piece. The melodic variation and “elaboration” of each new piece heard in Triúr Aris arises from each maestro musician’s creativity and sensitivity to one another’s musical gestures. In this way, there is a naturalness about the performance that belies the recent composition.

The three artists of Triúr engage a living narrative of performance. The narrative, while constructed in the present, amends itself to the past, from which it draws inspiration. Establishing this type of connection is a common thread in musical narrative and is echoed in Martin Hayes’ reflection in the liner notes: “Peadar’s tunes, though new, are of a structure and form that makes them seem as though they might have easily been found in a manuscript from the nineteenth century” (Hayes 2012). But what we hear on Triúr Aris, including the background drone of the tanbura on the seventeenth track, the overtones emanating from Caoimhín’s hardanger fiddle throughout the album, and the crisp polish of a professional recording, remind the listener that while drawing from the past, the music is indicative of the present environment and context for Irish traditional music performance. Moreover, as this album enters the field of Irish music production, it becomes part of the historical record of Irish traditional music and part of the contemporary inscription of Irish music that will bear upon the next generation of musicians. The musicians of Triúr, and indeed, most performers of Irish traditional music are aware of these circumstances, which I think is a large part of the reason why Peadar, Martin, and Caoimhín strive to express those components of Irish traditional music and of Irish culture that for them, seem to transcend time. I believe in this way, Triúr Aris is an album that is extremely insightful and amenable to thinking upon the state of Irish traditional music, a tradition that stands at the crossroads of time.

"Is Cuma Liom" by Peadar Ó Riada, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, and Martin Hayes:

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