Short Takes: Of Wind and Rain, Plaintive Guitars and Joyful Jazz

By Brian Arsenault

Cathie Ryan

Through Wind and Rain (Mo Leanbh Records)

I wasn’t too sure what I thought of Cathie Ryan’s Through Wind and Rain through the first couple of songs, which seemed sort of frivolous, even cutesy. But, ah, when she sings the darkly beautiful “Mo Nion O” three songs in, then I felt the haunting quality of a lullaby that can only be Irish.  Be safe, without a care, is a true Irish hope for a child in a land so often troubled.

She moves on to the traditional “Go From My Window,” where a lady tells a love brought back “by wind and rain” that he “can’t have harbor here.” A lady regretful but wry and strong nonetheless.  Wonderful whistles and harmonies support her.

This album is the first in seven years by Ryan, an American one generation removed from Ireland who took her troubles back to the “old country” to recover her strength before returning to recording and touring.

The irony of going back to Ireland to achieve “a better life” is not lost on this album. “Liberty’s Sweet Shore” tells the tale of all the emigrant Irish who came the other way to America: “leaving all we’ve known, the clothes on our backs all we own.”

It’s a true American story isn’t it.  Whether it’s emigrant Irish or my own Italian grandmother, with three babes in hand, “200 crowded altogether” in steerage, heading to a husband who went earlier and made enough money to bring over his wife and children. Or a Mexican family pushed into the back of a truck with too many others, in great danger from the very people transporting them.

That is why so many of us who are not Irish find ourselves, our lives, in Irish music.  There’s pain enough and joy enough for all.

There are the children who “live in fear” of the “Daddy,” who’s likely to come home drunk and wallop whoever he “stumbles over.” There are the lovers who “Walk the Road Together,” “All the way through wind and rain.”  But will they really “never deceive my heart again?” Will any of us?

Cathie Ryan’s is another of those marvelous Irish voices which the Goddess Fortuna has granted that land where the rest of fortune has often been unkind. And there are others singing harmonies with her. There is terrific guitar playing, whistles of flute-like quality and instruments I don’t even know.

All to give that finest of Irish blessings. “Fare Thee Well.”

* * * * * * * *

Jose Luis Monton

Solo Guitarra (ECM Records)

Only guitar. Only one guitar. Yet at times you will swear that there are at least two playing.

Jose Luis Monton is a marvel on Solo Guitarra, a work based in the flamenco of his native Barcelona, expanded to take those of us who have never been there to a Spain (“Espanola”) of the imagination, of the mind and heart.

The music is longing, regretful, passionate, close to violent at times and seductive at others. How can anyone so master the acoustic guitar or, indeed, any instrument?

I can’t tell you about his technical excellence; I don’t have the knowledge, the vocabulary. But you need none of that to ponder on “Con Permiso” if he is asking for love, understanding, forgiveness — all of those.  There is the intensity of love making but without any salaciousness.

“Altolaguirre” snaps, then seduces, and by the end seems to tease.  One has to listen for the differences.  Active listening is required here the way great writers require active readers.

At its core, Monton’s music takes us into ourselves.  Or does it reveal ourselves?  That is the universality of all great art.

I could be wrong about any of the “Detalitos,” but I know that song is about how close, at times, passion can be to violence and violence to passion. Here is all the drama of the flamenco.

On “Al Oido” you find that Monton has listened to Bach and it is also one of the several places you will swear two guitars are playing. Fits all those layers of Bach, doesn’t it?

Manfred Eicher, the “E” in ECM, says the producer’s role is to “capture music he likes and present it to those who don’t know it yet.” Precisely.

* * * * * * * *

Jeff Holmes Quartet

Of  One’s Own (Mile High Records)

Adam Kolker  Jeff Holmes  James Cammack  Steve Johns

I start with all the names because this is truly a quartert, not just three guys backing a fourth. They play together. Oh yes they do. And they make a joyful noise. Holmes name may be on the band but he plays with them and makes sure we hear all that jazz.

“Waltz #3” makes me wish New England summer could come back for a day to throw the windows open to catch the ocean’s breeze on a sunny afternoon.  The sax work is particularly notable here but everybody is good everywhere.

“One for CJ” has some Monk pacing and tempo but without the dissonance. Holmes’ piano playing provides Vince Guaraldi buoyancy and Bill Evans stylishness.

On the opening “Macaroons,” Kolker’s sax is as happy as Holmes’ piano with which it intermingles.  Deft is the word that most comes to mind here and elsewhere about John’s  drumming, the ability to move forward or slide underneath at just the right moments.

I could make the same kinds of comments about so many of the songs here. Kolker’s bass clarinet will make you hold your breath on “Poinciana” and Cammack’s bass takes a lead amidst all the bottom support he provides.

I know I keep returning to the upbeat, joyous nature of this music, but we too often think that good music, particularly good jazz, must be serious even sombre to be taken seriously.

But, whether a tightly arranged tune or an improv session, and there are both, the CD is first rate throughout.

This debut album of the quartet closes with “So Long, Farewell” but let us hope they don’t mean it.

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