Music Review/Album: 27 May 2004
Rather fatuously billed on the CD sleeve as “the ultimate global stringband”, Mozaik are Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, Bruce Molsky (USA), Rens Van Der Zalm (Holland) and Nikola Parov (Hungary), and this album was recorded live in Brisbane two years ago with the lads playing 18 instruments between them. The recording quality thankfully captures all the rapture of a terrific gig.
As with anything Irvine and Lunny get up to, there are exhilarating tracks here (‘Sandansko Oro’, ‘Mechkin Kamen’) in the kind of Eastern European time-signatures that would move your pocket calculator to meltdown. ‘Pony Boy’ boasts some terrific fiddle duetting from Molsky and Van Der Zalm, and serves as a handsome build-up to Irvine’s gritty vocals on his own zestful ‘Never Tire Of The Road’. The versions of both ‘A Blacksmith Courted Me’ and the complex ‘Smeseno Horo’ stand comparison with the Planxty covers of yore.
The latter is a veritable stringfest, with Parov’s kaval going head to furious head with the instruments of Lunny and Irvine. But perhaps the most touching of the material is Irvine’s heartfelt tribute to the legendary Willie Clancy in ‘My Heart’s Tonight In Ireland’.
The quintet on this performance may not be as pioneering as Lunny’s short-lived Coolfin project, but their unquestionable virtuosity and sheer joy in playing together makes this a memorable memento of what must have been a live gig to remember.
Jackie Hayden – Hotpress
Hummingbird HBCD0036; 62 minutes; 2004
According to legend, the term “World Music” was apparently coined by a group of record label marketing executives at a dinner held somewhere in London sometime in the mid-1980s. However, if such an event ever took place, none of those present could possibly have envisaged the existence of a band like Mozaik, even in their wildest brandy-fuelled, post-prandial deliberations.
For Mozaik, dear reader, is that rarity, a truly international band which consists of the London-born of mixed Scots/Irish parentage Andy Irvine, Kildare alumnus Dónal Lunny, American old-timey fiddler and banjo player Bruce Molsky, Dutch multi-instrumentalist Rens van der Zalm and the similarly skilled Hungarian Nikola Parov. Add to that brew Irvine’s well-documented affection for the music of the Balkans and all manner of quirky time signatures and the fact that the Powerhouse in question is in Brisbane, Australia and those marketing executives would be chortling into their glasses and calling for trebles all round.
It was Andy Irvine, of course, who was behind the original Mosaic (presumably, someone else now has the licence for the name) which first appeared after the final break-up of Planxty in 1983 and featured, alongside Dónal Lunny and uilleann piper Declan Masterson, and various European musicians.
That band never recorded, but thankfully this one has, though the concerts from which this album are drawn took place in March 2002. Nevertheless, a recent conversation with Andy revealed his desire for the album to achieve some recognition and, on the evidence provided, you’d be well advised to take heed.
One of the attractions of Planxty was the band’s never to be replicated line-up of instruments – uilleann pipes plus the various stringed instruments of Irvine and Lunny and the bodhrán of Christy Moore – and this is equally where Mozaik’s innate attractions lie. Apart from Andy’s occasional harmonica and Nikola’s whistle and clarinet, this is very much a string driven band (though any connection with the lamentable 1970s UK progressive band String Driven Thing should be firmly avoided). Like Planxty, Mozaik seem to be masters of all they survey, although it’s a substantially different landscape – one in which they can move from Aegean Macedonia (Suleman’s Kopanitsa, in the extraordinary time signature of 11/16) to Bruce Molsky’s Tennessee-inspired version of The Rocky Road to Dublin which itself segues into a wild Kentucky breakout, with Nikola’s whistle blowing hell for leather, on Indian Ate the Woodchuck. And from there it’s off to a Dutchman, Rens, playing a Rumanian tune on the fiddle which Andy once heard on a tour of Italy with the Breton band Gwerz!
If this all sounds as though musical passports are an essential requirement, fear ye not! Every listening unearths gems which possess an inherent commonality, but it’s Andy’s songs which, ultimately, provide the coat peg on which this truly international and thoroughly enjoyable musical exploration can hang its hat (and, as Marvin Gaye wrote, “Wherever I hang my hat is my home”).
So amidst all the musical exploration there’s a wonderful reading of A Blacksmith Courted Me and perhaps everybody’s favourite Irvine composition, My Heart’s Tonight in Ireland “in the time of Sweeney in the sweet County Clare”, to which Dónal adds Robinson County, learnt from Pumpkinhead, and Bruce finales with a splendidly exuberant Trip to Durrow. Then there’s the Macedonian song Mechkin Kamen and a stirring tribute to Woody Guthrie – Never Tire of the Road.
Naturally, the album has to include the tune with which Planxty opened ears to Eastern Europe, Smeseno Horo (in a bizarre mix of 15/16 and 9/16 signatures) and the CD aptly closes with an evocative clarinet-led rendition of the Hungarian tune The Last Dance.
All told, this is a stunning confection and an extraordinary collaboration which should be valued and cherished. More treble brandies all round!
Geoff Wallis – 11th May, 2004