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SIN E "Sin E" Rhiannon RHYD5006

During the last 25 years or so, Irish/something fusion music has progressed from near non existence to a situation where just about anything goes. Bill Whelan's amazing omnispectric music perhaps exemplifies this best, and while it has shown clearly that there is a huge potential following for this sort of music, it has also made it, paradoxically, harder for new bands to forge a clear-cut identity for themselves, in a post Riverdance world in which everything seems, at times, to have already been done.

Part of the thrill of Planxty, the Bothy Band and Moving Hearts was the thrill of the new, and as that thrill seems unlikely ever to be repeated to quite the same extent, one has spent a long decade and a half or so waiting for a band with just the right mixture of individuality, virtuosity and swing to provide a thrill that will at least be comparable.

It may just be that the long wait is over. London-based Sin E (pity about the band's name - it's a bit like being called "What did you say?" or "All right, thank you") have produced a thoroughly delightful debut record here, combining the traditional and the revivalist with Indian, Brazilian and other international elements, and for once, a real jazz feel. The latter is no surprise - keyboards player Mike Cosgrave studied under Eddie "the Flute" Parker of Loose Tubes fame, and Tim Garland, who makes a nasty contribution on sax, comes from similar musical circles. (I confess to some partiality here - Loose Tubes were, for me, the most exciting band of the eighties, along with Moving Hearts, and both bands have had a far-reaching influence on what has come after).

The Heartsian influence is rather more generally manifest, in the playing of the dazzlingly multi-instrumental Steafan Hannigan and of piper James O Grady, both of whom show a healthy respect for tradition too, although they're closer in feel to the likes of Flynn, Keenan and Hannan than to Clancy, Doran or Ennis. Fiddler Teresa Heanue endearingly thanks the likes of Paddy Fahy and Tommy Peoples (fair play!) and perhaps constitutes the most traditional element on the record, whilst Ansuman Biswas, on berimbau and a plethora of expertly-played percussion, does wonders for the texture of the different compositions. The whole is set off to perfection by excellent (and not over-fussy) arrangements and a fine production sound.

The material is a mixture of traditional and newly-composed, and in the latter category, I'd cite "The Barnsley Abacus" as being about as fine an example of how to compose and play fusion music as you could hope to meet. The record is largely instrumental, though there are four songs or parts of songs; and my only minor criticism would be that, what with the dazzling instrumental virtuosity on display here, the vocals have a bit of a tendency to seem redundant. They struck me at first as an attempt to capture something of the vacuity of the first Fairport LP (a very pretty vacuity, mind you), but one thing that this record doesn't need is vacuity. It is, otherwise, crammed full of delights, and I'll be indulging myself in repeated listenings over the Hogmanay season. Get right out there now and buy it. Dammit, it's so good - buy it twice!

Christy MacHale

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This album was reviewed in Issue 14 of The Living Tradition magazine.