Rooted in the traditional styles of North and West Clare, Ensemble Ériu is a unique combination of young Irish musicians revisiting a familiar repertoire with a highly original and innovative perspective. Following up on the band’s self-titled début in 2013 and released in June 2016 last on Raelach Records (in association with Ensemble Records), Imbas introduces six new selections of tunes all arranged for the acoustic septet.

Ensemble Ériu - Imbas (2016)
Ensemble Ériu – Imbas (2016)

With its chamber music connotation, Ensemble Ériu is comprised of seven musicians playing a rare combination of instruments. If concertina (Jack Talty), fiddle (Jeremy Spencer) and flute (Neil O’Loghlen) are usually associated with traditional Irish music, clarinet and bass clarinet (Matthew Berrill), double bass (Neil O’Loghlen again), marimba (Maeve O’Hara), drums (Matthew Jacobson) and guitar (Patrick Groenland) suggest classical, contemporary and jazz music.

Developed over the previous two years during concerts and recorded live, all the arrangements on Imbas have been carefully scripted with small windows left for improvisation here and there. Indebted to custodians of the repertoire such as Micho Russell, Willie Clancy or Tony MacMahon and featuring one new composition by Peadar Ó Riada, all the jigs and reels on the album form the basis for a fascinating and slow-paced study of the rhythmic and melodic intricacies of the music.

Always dwelling on the internal “pulse” of each individual tune, “The West Clare Reel” for instance focuses on a particular motif within the tune with the band slowly elaborating on it with specific instrumental combinations and variations. On the other hand, “The Humours of Drinagh” suite begins with a “straight” rendition of the jig with concertina, fiddle and flute only to be “decomposed” halfway through the selection at the signal of the double bass. Based on the Bobby Casey setting of the reel, “The Tempest” is a wholly novel group arrangement of the theme introduced by clarinet and marimba.

Imbas is an Old Irish word that is used to describe inspiration, creativity, and prophetic knowledge”, read the liner notes of the album.

Very much in tune with the contemporary Irish and international music scene, Ensemble Ériu’s creative outlook also echoes other art forms, in particular visual arts as illustrated by the modernist design of Robin Fuller’s cover artwork. 2015 also saw the band embark on their “Stargazer” tour featuring a newly composed suite based on the paintings of Jack B. Yeats.

For anyone familiar with the traditional repertoire or newcomers alike, Ensemble Ériu’s sideways approach is a delightful breadth of fresh air and a testament to the band’s musical open-mindedness.