The Gloaming’s self-titled début album is simply magnificent. This is contemporary music that is both deeply rooted in traditional Irish music or sean-nós singing and totally in tune with the 21st century musical zeitgeist. The group emerged in 2011 from the genuine convergence of kindred spirits who have known each other for a long time and crossed paths on many occasions, of innovative “sonic explorers” who have been honing their respective crafts on the world stage over the years, more than often off the beaten track.

Ever since his amazing self-titled début album in 1993, East Clare fiddler Martin Hayes has been pursuing his forensic examination of the traditional repertoire, de-constructing and stripping down the tunes to the bare bones in order to distil their essential melody and rhythm. Since the mid-1990s, he has done so through his otherworldly telepathic musical partnership with Chicago-born guitarist Dennis Cahill, the latter having essentially crafted a unique and understated backing style on the guitar.

West Cork-born singer Iarla Ó Lionáird has also been broadening the scope of the traditional Sean-nós singing style by venturing into several experimental projects either as a solo artist or through collaborations with world fusion supergroup the Afro-Celt Sound System or Donnacha Dennehy and the Crash Ensemble amongst others.

At the young age of 32, New-York based classically-trained pianist, singer and producer Thomas Bartlett has already recorded, collaborated or toured with an impressive line-up of indie artists such as Sam Amidon, Antony and the Johnsons or The National to name a few, either as a solo artist (aka Doveman) or as a sideman.

As a solo artist or through collaborations with many musicians and groups including piper Mick O’Brien, Triúr, Icelandic band Amiina or contemporary folk band This is How We Fly, Dublin-born piper and fiddle player Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh has been revisiting the Irish repertoire (or writing “new contemporary material that explores the region where traditional music begins to disintegrate” as he puts it on his homepage) with a Norwegian Hardanger fiddle using baroque bowing techniques. He now plays a custom made ten-string instrument halfway between a viola and a Hardanger fiddle which he calls a “Hardanger d’Amore”.

The Gloaming (2014)
The Gloaming (2014)

2013 witnessed the release from two fascinating new contemporary Irish bands (namely This is How we Fly and Ensemble Ériu) whose sound is also informed by other modern traditions, post-classical minimalism or jazz. Having followed the careers of each member of The Gloaming quintet on and off over the years, catching up with or anticipating new releases, I thought I had a fair idea of where this was all going. I was mistaken. The first listen of The Gloaming CD was still a jaw-dropping and moving listening experience. This is a unique and original sound.

Adopting a Zen-like “less-is-more” aesthetic, The Gloaming manage to articulate a stripped-down, flowing and emotionally charged music which possesses a contemporary “draiocht”, a modern “lonesome touch”.

Iarla Ó Lionáird’s timbre in the stunning opening “Song 44”. Thomas Bartlett’s digressive piano and Martin Hayes’ lyrical phrasing in the 16’39’’ of the “Opening Set”. Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh’s eerie take on “The Old Bush” on the Hardanger d’Amore. Dennis Cahill’s minimalist punctuation of “The girl who broke my heart” on the guitar. This is a true and spellbinding emotional roller-coaster.

In various articles, interviews and documentaries, the members of The Gloaming have all discussed at some stage this “elusive and essential aspect of the music”.

 It is this quality that has driven and inspired me all of my musical life.  I have found that you can never possess it, you can only yield to it. Only on rare occasions have I really been able to express completely from this point. For the most part it still remains the unobtainable horizon, the object of inspiration and motivation.

Martin Hayes – The Lonesome Touch cover notes (1997)

As a collective, The Gloaming have arguably touched that horizon.

The Gloaming is out now on the Real World record label.