“Ensemble” is a great word choice: it conveys the idea of a group of musicians playing in the field of either classical, contemporary or jazz music, while in the Irish context, composer Seán Ó Riada’s band Ceoltóirí Chualann introduced the idea of ensemble playing in traditional Irish music in the early 1960s.

The music of the Ensemble Ériu project encompasses all of the above. Developed by concertina player Jack Talty and double bass/flute player Neil O’Loghlen and supported by a cast of 8 musicians (clarinet, marimba & drums, fiddle, viola, guitar, keyboards, trombone and voice), the collective sets out to explore the melodic intricacies of the traditional Irish repertoire in a very organic and experimental fashion, slowly meandering through traditional tunes and new compositions over six sets of 5 to 9 minutes long. Ensemble Ériu have just released their self-titled début album on 30th September 2013 last on Raelach Records.

Ensemble Ériu (2013)
Ensemble Ériu (2013)

The repertoire of Ensemble Ériu is rooted in the music of County Clare but it is also equally grounded in acoustic jazz music or in the post-classical minimalism of contemporary musicians like Steve Reich for instance. The inclusion of the marimba in the ensemble’s line-up hints maybe at the American composer’s influence – the latter has composed extensively for the instrument over the last 50 years for several projects and ensembles with various instrument permutations. And then it is interesting to note that Steve Reich experimented with the melodica in the mid-1960s, a reed instrument whose sound is very close to that of the concertina.

All these elements coalesce beautifully in “Jurna”, the opening track of the album. Following a three minute introduction “drawing on the hypnotic repetition” of the minimalist approach, concertina and fiddle launch into “The New Custom House” reel before recalling the introductory motif in the coda. Ensemble Ériu’s contemporary and minimalist take on Irish music cleverly elaborates on the fact that traditional Irish music is circular and repetitive by nature, and that at the same time,

Some of the minimalist patterns and ideas were influenced by the idiomatic phrasing or melodic variations of people like Micho [Russell] and [Bobby] Casey for example.

Jack Talty in conversation with Tony Lawless – Trad Connect

Ensemble Ériu · Jurna

Throughout the whole album, it is so refreshing to hear a bass line introducing a reel or a jig, the sound of the concertina alongside the marimba and the clarinet, the drone of the trombone echoing the bass notes of the concertina or the last song of the album flirting with ambient drone music.

Lend an ear, this is a wonderful musical experiment.