Sound of Irish music
Observer Scene | Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Friday night’s concert by Eileen Ivers and Immigrant Soul had high points, but was not a concert for musical purists. The concert was also directed towards an older crowd than Notre Dame undergraduates and had a relatively low turnout of students.Immigrant Soul’s performance proved that just because something can be done does not mean it should be done, and that trying to modernize a traditional form of music will not always improve it. Irish music is not complicated compared to many styles of music, and adapting it for different instruments and ensembles is not difficult. However, the addition of instruments and styles not traditionally part of Irish music often distracts from the performance rather than enhancing it. In the case of Immigrant Soul, the combination of several talented musicians did not help to highlight their musical skill.Ivers’ performance on violin justified her reputation as an excellent fiddler. She plays with feeling and energy, and captures lively Celtic dance tunes, mournful ballads and bluegrass tunes with equal skill. Ivers’ solo numbers were invariably emotional and enjoyable. Her playing pulled numbers by the entire band together and helped engage the audience in the music.The attempt to blend blues, rock, Irish and other styles of music was less successful. Celtic music tends to have a simple rhythmic base provided by the bohdran, the only traditional percussion instrument used in the genre. Drummers Adriano Santos and Tommy McDonnell tended to overwhelm Ivers’ playing at times, and made it difficult to hear James Riley on guitar. The bodhran is a low-toned instrument, and cymbals and chimes were particularly intrusive. Emmanuel Gatewood’s accompaniment on electric bass did not lack talent, but was also a jarring addition to the traditional Celtic sound.The uilleann pipes, played by Ivan Goff, were especially hard to hear. The Irish incarnation of the famous bagpipes are one of the most distinctive elements of Irish music, and it was unfortunate not to be able to hear more of them through the show.McDonnell, who is also the lead singer and plays harmonica for the band, has been thoroughly steeped in blues during a career that has included performances with many blues greats such as B.B. King, James Brown and Eric Clapton. The singer did not bridge the gap into Celtic music especially well. His singing obviously stemmed from American genres and did not blend well with Irish music. His rapport with the crowd was also not especially engaging.The group’s choice of music was moderately successful. A rendition of “Pachelbel’s Canon” was not an especially exciting choice for a widely renowned group, and the performance improved drastically when the group moved to a fiddle-based dance tune.The band’s forays into bluegrass were more successful than their attempts at Irish music. Bluegrass is naturally suited to a wider variety of musical instruments, and the drum sets and occasional solos on harmonica were not as intrusive as in the old Irish tunes. The group’s final performance of “Let the Circle Be Unbroken” was one of the best and liveliest numbers in the show.Ultimately, the former Riverdance fiddler was rightfully the reason most people probably came to the show. Unlike in the opening performance by Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the headlining artist was undoubtedly the most talented. The show would have been better if the audience had been able to concentrate more fully on Ivers’ excellent playing and on other traditional elements of Celtic music and less on the group’s attempts to modernize an ancient form. Although the group was enthusiastic and made a genuine effort to put on a good show, audiences would do better to see any of these musicians solo or with another ensemble than to see Immigrant Soul.