Six Days In Down, One Mesmerising Album

A fusion of musical traditions with guitarist Bob Brozman and trad musicians John McSherry and Donal O'Connor

Six Days In Down, a beguiling album by Bob Brozman, John McSherry and Donal O’Connor, was the inspired vision of promoter Brian Carson of Moving on Music, who had collaborated independently with the three accomplished musicians before. Carson’s dream was that they would gather together in a studio for six days, and that there should be no pressure on them to produce a definitive outcome – merely to record a creative exploration that would yield whatever it might. His intuition was sound and the result is a fine prize.

 

A native of New York, guitarist Bob Brozman has spent a life engaging with many diverse traditions, from Hawaii to India, from Japan to Delta Blues and much, much more. O’Connor and McSherry, comrades in At First Light, have spent several years fine-tuning their own distinct sound of fiddle and pipes within the Irish tradition. Neither party knew very much at all about the other’s music prior to those six days in Downpatrick – potential for a damp squib, one might reasonably think. What emerged is anything but that.

 

'The modality of Irish music attracted Brozman immediately,' says Donal O’Connor, 'and he could see similarities with other world musics he’d come into contact with. That and his obsession with 6/8 time, jig time in our music, drew us together from the outset.

 

‘We worked hard for those six days, averaging 15 hours a day in the studio. We’d compose or decide what to record first thing in the morning and have the template of the piece in the can within the hour. Our target became to complete two tracks each day. Intense, rewarding work.”

 

The opening track, 'Hardiman the Fiddler', underlines much of this, from its modal, cross-rhythmed intro through internal Hawaiian colours, its humour and joy, its sheer brilliance.

 

This album is a mesmeric journey that offers new and unexpected twists and turns, all welcome, none disappointing. Through his absolute command of a huge array of guitars - including National Resonator Guitars, baritone guitars and an Indian slide guitar - Brozman brings remarkable energy and drive to pulses that shore up flawless piping and fiddling, clean and crisp.

 

The ever-fresh palettes these three paint command such listening that I sometimes wished certain tracks were longer, allowed to indulge in their captivating grooves. And that I mean as praise.

 

Donal O’Connor’s composition 'Róise na bhFonn', an homage to his grandmother, aches with love and beauty and speaks volumes; Pota Mór Fataí entrances as it tumbles in and around itself; the two songs on the album, 'A Mháire Bruineall' and 'Bean An Fhir Ruaidh', with Stephanie Makem guesting, entice us into yet another world - and in the latter, a tender and calm world where Ulster meets Honolulu.

And we’re still travelling in 'Beer Belly Dancing', to the middle-east this time. Brozman’s edgy and percussive guitar style constantly shifts in sympathy with McSherry’s superb low whistle and taut chanter, O’Connor’s sweeping bow at one and the same time both balming and invigorating.

 

All arrangements and compositions are superb, all playing is without fault, all music is to the fore. Never a dull moment. It also merits highlighting that this is a very well-recorded album, engineered by Michael Keeney. The informative and scholarly sleeve notes complete the package.

 

The three have just finished a promotional tour, and there are plans afoot for them to do more work together over the coming year or two, both here and abroad. And may that happen indeed, as I think they have found a voice that is much more than merely the merging of two distinct forces, albeit that each force here has many influences.

 

These three musicians have exchanged their gifts back and forth and in the process allowed them to rub off and complement each other - sensitively, openly and unapologetically. When Donal says that 'we quickly found a mutual respect for each other, and felt a generosity, a wish to share' it sums up this album very well.

 

Outstanding musicians who listen and make music together don’t need to display themselves – they just find new ways to communicate, new roads to travel. Those six days they spent together in Down were a worthwhile odyssey that will enthral for many years to come.

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