Some good things have come out of the University of Ulster, as this reviewer can attest from some brief time spent there over three decades ago. A more recent and tuneful instance is provided by Connla, playing as part of the Traverse Theatre’s autumn ‘Soundhouse’ series of concerts last night.
Offering a considerable amount of material from their debut album ‘River Waiting’ the five artists who are Connla – Ciaran Carlin on whistle and flute, Connor Mallon on uillean pipes and whistle, Emer Mallon on clarsach, Ciara McAfferty providing vocals and bodrhan accompaniment and Paul Starrett on guitar combine to create a refreshing re-interpretation of the Irish musical tradition that blows off the cobwebs and lets in the light.
Classical training combines with an awareness of jazz and also other European traditions to produce a fresh, clear sound that is constantly and consistently entertaining and engaging. There’s a delicate balance achieved between stringed and reed instruments that created a literally pitch-perfect harmony, exemplified especially in the several numbers presented composed by the five players.
Entertainment too in some of the introductions to tunes which seemed to have an autobiographical inspiration to their creation. From ‘Father Fergusson’ to ‘Frankie Funtime’ Connla’s sense of relaxed commitment to their music continued to shine.
Emer Mallon’s ‘The Enchanted’, which took its inspiration from that of the mythical hero who gives the group its name, proved a piece of considerable ambition that the players rose to with alacrity and enthusiasm.
Once sensed that their tightness and generosity in performance stems largely from their personal closeness, but what might in other instances be claustrophobic is here clearly a source of strength, which bodes well for their future as an entity.
To play Celtic Connections at what seems a very early stage of their career speaks to the abilities of these musicians and whatever the future may hold for them collectively or individually one can only wish them well while being impatient for more.
Event was on 3rd October