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Cormac Breatnach & Martin Dunlea - "Music for Whistle & Guitar" - Mandala / Pressure Records

Cormac Breatnach is a phenomenally talented whistle-player whose many previous recordings have pushed back the frontiers of tin whistle repertoire and technique.  Here he teams up with jazz and classical guitarist Martin Dunlea, whom I've never heard of before as far as I know.  Cormac has made a career of building bridges between jazz, classical and traditional Irish music, particularly with his own group Deiseal.  There are elements of Cormac's past on this recording, as well as some sparkling new treatments of traditional tunes.  There's also the occasional track which, for me at least, is probably a bridge too far.

The opening two tracks are little masterpieces: a set of slow and fast reels with a Dunlea composition followed by two Irish classics, and then three traditional jigs (not the advertised Morrison's set) starting with a jazzy arrangement of Na Ceannabhain Bhana and ending with the lovely Old Flail by Vincent Broderick.  Things get a bit less inspired then, with a rather pedestrian tune from Dunlea and an unsuccessful attempt to turn the air The Foggy Dew into a six-minute showpiece.

The unaccompanied whistle on Cormac's slow air The Wicklow Way easily holds the ear for four minutes: this is a lovely tune lovingly played, and is one of the highlights of this recording.  The next few tracks are almost as good, with a catchy mix of tempos and rhythms, ancient and modern.  The slow version of Sporting Paddy is an interesting experiment, and should perhaps be taken as such.

Martin Dunlea's solo rendition of his own tune Music Box is a pleasant little waltz, and shows off his fine technique.  Then we have the finale: the postponed Morrison's and Tailor Small's, given a very jazzy treatment with fancy whistling and flash picking, followed by the gentle wind-down of Ogham Ripples to leave you feeling warm and relaxed.  I did, anyway.

Cormac and Martin have spread eleven tracks over fifty minutes to create an interesting, entertaining and at times outstanding recording.  If you like your music to lean towards the eclectic, to take a few risks with traditional tunes, or if you simply like virtuoso whistle-playing, then this CD is definitely for you. If you're a bit shy of the more modern end of Irish music, then you'll probably want to skip a couple of the tracks but there's still plenty of excellent traditional music here: give it a listen, and you may acquire a taste for Cormac's brand of cool trad.  If you know what you like and this isn't it, forget it.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 45 of The Living Tradition magazine.