Drift Away

On a chilled, rain-sotted evening a couple weeks back, I saw Kevin Crawford and Cillian Vallely backed by guitarist Ted Davis perform a concert at the gracious home of Mike and Rose Flanagan in Pearl River, New York – a town just across the New Jersey border that’s become a veritable whirling nexus of Irish traditional music activity the last few years.

Through some sort of cultural kismet, Pearl River and its environs have attracted an ever-expanding core of adult ITM players and a half dozen music and dance schools nurturing Irish folkways among a new generation of super-talented youngsters.

The local Shoprite even has a special Irish section in the “International Foods” aisle.

And this is a Good Thing.

I’d seen Kevin and Cillian before with their sensational regular group Lúnasa, of course. The two sets this night were largely drawn from their 2009 album of flute-pipes-whistle blendings, On Common Ground (BallyO Records).

It might be assumed that because I play the music, and even several of those tunes, that I’d have spent the evening mentally comparing my versions to theirs. Studying their technique. Focusing on minutiae of phrasing, embellishment, variation, etc. Every musician does this subconsciously. Can’t help it. It’s how our minds are wired.

But this night was different, and not just because of the intimacy of the Flanagan parlor or superb accompaniment by Ted Davis. I wanted to let the music take me to a SUB-subconscious level. No analysis. No scrutiny. Just seeing if the sounds could burrow down and strike a level of deep, heretofore unfathomed Ur-Craic.

When the first tune kicked off, I leaned against the rear wall, closed my eyes and sank into tantric breathing mode … breathing to relax, relax and detach … relax to where just one brain synapse pushed artfully ajar would be enough to let the music travel along a whole new path to a mental part of Me I’d never been before.

I can’t say for certain at what point in the set (possibly the twin-whistled Man from Moyasta medley) that I felt the music changing … not changing speed or timbre or texture … but changing dimension … mass … volume even … like the way you hear sound when your head is under water, the sonic waves altering in location and amplitude as they pass from one medium into another (air into water) to be perceived wholly anew in every aspect by your sensory field — in this case translating audio stimuli into visual and tactile form.

Only the music wasn’t muddled; it was voiced with searing clarity and infinite nuance, phrase after phrase after deftly-framed phrase rippling out agile, pulsing note swells that merged seamlessly with the drumming raindrops outside. It was music that allowed my mind to wander into a borderless, timeless aural space where I could feel Everything and Nothing at once. And not worry either way.

[This is where I need to mention that the only pre-concert substances I had imbibed were tap water and a slice of Charlie Sporn’s tasty homemade soda bread, spiked moderately with sugar and butter.]

What’s most remarkable is realizing I’ve been playing Irish traditional music for nearly forty years, and it still has the power at any given moment to seize hold of my internal gearbox and torque me straight into a riveting out-of-body in-body experience words can never really describe.

But that’s all in the music’s DNA, most likely. A gift from the ancients to us stressed, frettish, anxious moderns.

Chroniclers say that the ancient Irish had three classes of music: one with the ability to inspire sadness, the second for sparking joy, a third for inducing sleep.

Listening to the Kevin-Cillian-Ted trio this night, I’d be tempted to add a fourth category:  music to let yourself just drift away to wherever it is you need to be.

And that is truly a Good Thing.

*  *  *

DRIFT AWAY — vocal by Dobie Gray
(author/composer:  Mentor Williams)

Day after day I’m more confused
So I look for the light through the pouring rain
You know that’s a game that I hate to lose
And I’m feelin’ the strain, ain’t it a shame

Oh, give me the beat, boys, and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Oh, give me the beat, boys, and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away

Beginning to think that I’m wastin’ time
I don’t understand the things I do
The world outside looks so unkind
I’m countin’ on you to carry me through

Oh, give me the beat, boys, and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Oh, give me the beat, boys, and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away

And when my mind is free
You know a melody can move me
And when I’m feelin’ blue
The guitar’s comin’ through to soothe me
Thanks for the joy that you’ve given me
I want you to know I believe in your song
Rhythm and rhyme and harmony
You help me along, makin’ me strong

Oh, give me the beat, boys, and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Oh, give me the beat, boys, and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaPnOASOWIU
Dobie Gray himself, 1974 with some English cats on BBC


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