Run to Fly
* * *
Celtic music fans certainly know the name Aidan O'Rourke. His latest project, though, found him twiddling dials in the studio rather than rosining up his bow. He has produced Alba's Edge, a young band that explores the connections between Celtic music, jazz, and Latin music. Please emphasize the word connections. Far too many contemporary mash-up efforts are force-fits instead of retrofits. A listen to Run to Fly finds Alba's Edge looking for logical affinity, not simply engaging in cultural splicing for the sheer sake of novelty. While I wouldn't say that every track works, I give these youngsters high marks for thoughtfulness.
Siblings Lilly and Neil Pearlman, she a Celtic-style fiddler and he a jazz pianist, anchor the quartet. They grew up in a Maine household filled with Cape Breton, Scottish, Brazilian, and Cuban music. The Pearlmans generally drive each composition, but solid cross rhythms from percussionist Jacob Cole and the versatile bass lines of Doug Berns texture the music. Don't expect cheesy cha-cha-chas appended to jigs. Alba's Edge sets the tone on the first track, "Rising," which strikes an ambient mood with its cascades of piano notes. In fact, quite a few tracks evoke high-end New Age jazz. This is certainly true of "Willard State Park," in which Neil Pearlman's keyboarding is reminiscent of that of jazz legend Vince Guaraldi, who was known for his work on Peanuts TV specials. "Willard State Park" has similar joyous piano runs, but the overlay with backswing fiddle produces a more complex result.
We don't really notice overt Latin influences until track four, the title track, which opens forlorn and foreboding, but is lightened by soft fiddle notes and keyboard chording that eases the piece into a swaying, playful bridge that allows the band to shift into a joyous higher gear. "General Jinjur/NOLA Chili" is also an interesting mix. It has decided Latin cross beats and Brazilian jazz piano running through, but the bass lines evoke some of Robby Krieger's work with The Doors, especially on Morrison Hotel. Another solid effort is "Summer Scraps," a giddy little tune that will make you grab your dance shoes. There's also a nice cover of "The Diamond," a famed whaling song popularized by Ewan MacColl. The deliberately scratchy fiddle on this one exudes bluegrass influence.
To my ear there are a few missteps. "HRK: Strength in Recovery" could use more structure and seems more like a forum for cool riffs than a cohesive piece. Ditto "The Sordid Life of Scientists," which has slices of soca, gypsy fiddling, and Latin cool jazz, but a helter-skelter binding that comes apart in places. But as I hope comes across, these folks are serious and skillful musicians. Even their not-quite-realized pieces are interesting ideas. Rob Weir