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The Graham Album Review #1856

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Notify: In Concept
by George Graham

(Ropeadope As broadcast on WVIA-FM 4/20/2016)

After traditional Celtic music experienced a revival in popularity on this side of the Atlantic starting in the 1970s, it was only inevitable that creative artists in the genre started taking it beyond the traditional and began mixing genres. And during the last 15 years or so, there have been quite a few interesting Celtic hybrids. Sometimes they take a more popular direction like Enya. And there are also those with creative eclecticism combining the genre with seemingly unlikely musical ingredients like electronic and techno dance with artists like Shooglenifty and The Olllam, salsa with Ruben Blades and Eileen Ivers with funk and rock. This week, we have another interesting Celtic-based hybrid. It's the Irish instrumental band Notify, whose new second album is called In Concept.

Notify was formed in the early 2010s and released their eponymous debut album in 2013. The group is led by concertina player Padraig Rynne, who has played his share of traditional music, and was a member of an Irish/Breton band called Guidewires. He also performs with a threesome called Triad with Donal Lunney and Sylvain Barou. His academic background includes a masters in Music Technology and so he is not afraid to bring some of that into the studio, though tastefully and in an innovative way. Notify also includes pianist Cormac McCarthy, a native of Cork, but who spent several years in Chicago, studying jazz composition at DePaul University, and appearing with jazz groups including with the late sax great Phil Woods and drummer Jeff Hamilton. One can hear McCarthy's jazz harmonic approach in much of the music on In Concept. On bass is Eoin Walsh, who can play in the funky style and also on fretless electric bass that can sometimes be reminiscent of the late Jaco Pastorius. Davie King is the drummer, who knows how to be understated, and the guitarist is Cillian King, who plays mainly acoustic but does plug in at times.

If one were to ask for a quick description of the musical hybrid in which Notify specializes, I I suppose one could say “Celtic jazz” and not be too far off the mark. Often, Rynne's concertina is the main sound that keeps the music related to Celtic. He frequently plays laid-back jigs or reels on the concertina while the rest of the band can take a jazzy or fusion direction. The compositions, by various combinations of the members are quite interesting. A piece may start with what sounds like a jig or reel, but evolves into something more jazzy, often with the harmonic backdrop to the concertina borrowing from jazz, and sometimes the general sound evolves into a kind of jazz piano trio sound. Much of the music is a bit contemplative in texture, with no obvious showy exhibitions of virtuosity. At the same time, there are no real full-out danceable jigs or reels. While some of the concertina lines can sound like traditional music, all of the material on In Concept is original.

The album opens with a piece called In Continuum, which rather epitomized the Notify sound, with the concertina playing a kind of Irish jig while the rest of the band applies interesting musical textures, with the jazzy keyboard sound and the almost march-like drum line. <<>>

A piece called Vividity features the guitar more prominently while keeping the Celtic line going with the concertina. <<>> The track gets into an interesting piano solo. <<>>

Wagtail is a composition by the bassist Eoin Walsh in which the focus of the sound moves away from the concertina and it comes across as a kind of jazzy ballad. <<>>

Probably the most upbeat piece on the album is called Floor Shark, by concertina player Rynne. It's one piece on which he shows his bent for sonic electronics. While it maintains a Celtic aura, it definitely heads in a more rock and funk direction, doing so with a fair amount of creativity. <<>>

That is followed by a kind of melancholy-sounding piece appropriately named Reverie. The group, as they usually do, add some interesting musical twists. <<>>

One of the more distinctive tracks is called Lucidity Trap which is mostly a duet between Padraig Rynn's concertina and Eoin Walsh's fretless electric bass. <<>>

Cormac McCarthy, in his jazz pianist mode, is featured on a track called Panacea which alternates between a kind of gentle jig and funky section. <<>>

The album ends with False Awakening a musically attractive piece that gets back to the kind of contemplative Celtic-jazz hybrid that is Notify's stock in trade. <<>>

In Concept the new second album by the Irish group Notify, and the first with wide US distribution, is another excellent example of the good things that can happen from eclectic hybrids with Celtic music. With a concertina player who has a penchant for sonic technology, a jazz pianist, and a funky bassist among its members, Notify brings together their influences in a kind of organic way through the interactions among the musicians with their respective backgrounds. Notify does what they do in a more subtle way than some of the Celtic hybrids, with the music generally having a more understated and laid-back sound. The playing is first-rate as is the arranging.

Our grade for sound quality is an “A.” The mix is nearly ideal and the sonic quality of the instrumentation is captured well with a pleasing, natural sound. Special kudos goes to the recording's dynamic range. It's one of very few recent CDs that are not artificially cranked up in loudness through heavy compression. The music's ebb and flow in volume is thus captured well.

Even the venerable traditional Irish band the Chieftains have been collaborating with others and creating their own Celtic hybrids. Notify has originated their own distinctive sound adding some understated jazz to the equation for some very pleasing results.

(c) Copyright 2016 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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