Cormac Begley – Cormac Begley

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 3/5

Cormac Begley is an award-winning player and an innovator. The Irish Times described his concertina playing as a ‘masterclass in timeless musicianship’. Cormac plays in a number of duets, with Liam O Maonlai of Hothouse Flowers, Caoimhin O Raghallaigh from Hardanger D’Amore, Rusad Eggleston of Cello Goblin and Libby McCrohan. He is a member of a trio with Noel Hill and Jack Taty and plays in the band Re featuring Liam O Maolai, Maitiu O Casaide, Eithne Ni Chathain and Peter O Toole of Hothouse Flowers. Cormac was involved in the dance production bu choreographer Michael Keegan Dolan entitled rainan has recently returned from an engagement in Cuba where played for Irish President Micheal D Higgins’ first state visit to Havana. The album represents a conscious effort to make the listeners really listen and engage. The material is sourced specifically for the recording and much of it is either previously unrecorded or composed for this occasion. The tunes are recorded in St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, the space allowing us to hear every nuance and movement of his playing. The laying bare extends to the recordings which are all whole takes, Cormac is at pains to state that there is no studio manipulation. The breadth and scope of the playing is breath taking with bass, baritone, treble and piccolo concertinas being played and showcased across the thirteen recordings. This is without doubt a labour of love and is Zen like in its clear sense of purpose and purity of vision. The music is free and physical. Like all acoustic music the physicality of playing becomes part of the sound, form function and aesthetic all inform each other. The opening set of “Reels The Yellow Tinker/Ril Mhor Bhaile An Chalaidh” puts me in mind of the very expressive harmonica playing of Rory McLeod, where the sounds of air in the Concertina and the taps of the keys recalls the physical mouth music and grunts of folk harmonica. Or the runs of notes and cadence of the keys on the saxophone as John Coltrane looses himself in the middle of “A Love Supreme”. Alongside slower more reflective pieces like “Frenzy Polka” on a treble Concertina there is an ever-present beat to Cormac’s playing. The amazingly named Dipper Bass Concertina on “Rocking The Cradle” crosses musical traditions carrying some of the roaring breath sounds of soulful blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite. As well as carrying us along on the faster more frenetic pieces Cormac Begley can also build suspense and atmosphere with the space and drama on slower paces like the air “Beauty Deas an Oileain”. Like the genre and culture crossing music of Andrew Cronshaw he summons pictures and creates a superb sense of space with sound and atmosphere. There is a cinematic, descriptive quality to the music that suggests his playing would lend itself to film soundtrack. Cormac Begley may be currently limited to niche appeal, releasing solo concertina music isn’t going to lend itself easily to a Mercury Prize. Being in the free jazz end of traditional folk dance music is essentially in the left field of the left field. However, this is undeniably a stunning album of solo instrumental music that crackles with power, vim, drive and integrity, leaving you glad that someone is putting this out and making such a fine job of it​