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Jez Lowe & the Bad Pennies - The Parish Notices
MARTIN HAYES & DENNIS CAHILL - ""Live in Seattle" - Green Linnet GLCD1195

Martin Hayes has been hailed as the messiah of Irish fiddle music, and his partnership with bluesy guitarist Dennis Cahill has resulted in two albums now, so let's have an objective look at what they're doing.

Martin's slow (or, as Archie Fisher put it, "lazy") delivery of Irish dance music is generally attributed to the older East Clare fiddlers with whom he grew up. The solo recordings of these players, such as Paddy Canny's recent CD, bear this out. With the slowness comes an arhythmic quality, the freedom to stretch some notes and shrink others, and the time to embellish and vary the fingering. Another hallmark of Martin's playing, which has been picked up by most young Irish fiddlers, is his frequent and extensive glissando: he doesn't actually play as many notes as most people, and he tends to slide on and off them. This changes dance music into listening music, as the tune is shaped by the whim of the musician and not by the needs of the dancers.

Dennis Cahill's playing is similar to Martin's in many ways. He, too, has a tendency to bend notes and rhythms, and a knack for not actually playing many notes. What he does play is often pitched higher than the fiddle, and often produces unusual harmonies which take the tune into a different mode: his accompaniment to "Port na bPucai" is a good example.

Both men are also capable of playing in strict tempo: Dennis gives us a couple of very rhythmic solos, and Martin rattles off "The Humours of Tulla" and "Dowd's" in a very danceable style.

So what's all the fuss about? Mainly, I think, the fact that both players put so much of themselves into the music. Call it soul, heart or any other bit of anatomy, you can hear that this music is full of it. There are only five tracks on this CD, but every one is captivating. Even the monster 27-minute medley indulges the audience more than the performers. Martin Hayes really understands his music, and Dennis Cahill really understands Martin Hayes: that's worth all the fuss.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 35 of The Living Tradition magazine.