Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill,
Live In Seattle
(Green Linnet, 1999)

From the opening notes, you know where you are. You've come home. Here is possibly the finest Irish fiddler playing today. The slight slur, the swing -- notes are placed before you, each one connected with perfect flowing ease to the next. Talk about grace notes -- this is playing with true grace. And then there's the guitar: scales and runs, chord progressions naturally constructed, a solid causeway reaching out from land for the melody to lead you to the unknown beyond.

Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill take you on an adventure each time they play. Elegance and compatibility personified through Irish tunes. There's the comfort of knowing that sound, even if you're hearing it for the first time. It's such a natural sound, such a natural way of playing. It's right, simply that -- right. Why hadn't anyone ever thought of it before?

It feels like two instruments, joined together at birth. They can play a medley for almost half an hour and at no point do you feel itchy pants. The pair understand not just each other, but also the music they're playing. They know the high points, they know the subdued parts, they know when to back off and let the other lean forward, they know when to hit it. It's such a natural union.

Perhaps in the past, my problem has been the studio environment, with its tendency to coldness, and even sterility, in sound. I've thrilled at the duo in concert. Rarely can I leave a Hayes & Cahill performance without a thousand tunes swimming around my head. I can't help but go home and put into action what I've learnt; and each time I play, I ask, what did they do here, what did they do there? On album, I've never felt that reaction.

A live recording seems to be the next best thing to a live performance. With the wonders of modern digital technology, all kinds of touches can be added, parts replaced and so on, to any recording. I don't think Hayes & Cahill had to do much here -- they did all the work while playing. And it doesn't sound like work, either. It sounds like fun.

There are only five tracks on this album, which will come as no surprise to those who have seen them live. Four are sets of two tunes, perfectly matched and balanced, while the remaining marathon track features 11 tunes -- from fiddle pieces to guitar solo work, via duets and standard fiddle lead/guitar accompaniment arrangements; from a lament to a houlie with Pachelbel by way of jigs and reels.

Martin Hayes has learnt well over the years. He incorporates not only excellent, deceptively simple sounding ornamentation, but plays with a true vocal approach to his bowing. From straight traditional to touches of Grappelli, he is a master.

Dennis Cahill, by contrast, seems to approach the music from a more rhythmic starting point. He takes a dynamic lead on "Exile In Erin," incorporating blues and rock elements in his phrasing (which the fiddle is able to echo with ease); but for most of the rest of his performance, drives tunes along with a great use of the upbeat, and chopping with and across the rhythm. I particularly like his sparse use of the strings -- why use six strings if you can imply as big a sound with just one or two?

If you can find two people more sensitive to the intricacies and nuances of this music, I would be most surprised. Live In Seattle is everything you could want from a fiddle and guitar album -- and then more. A lot more.

[ by Jamie O'Brien ]