THE AGE, MELBOURNEAndy Irvine's multicultural collective, Mozaik - the new band he assembled only a month ago for the Port Fairy Folk Festival and Australian tour - comprises several of his old associates.
26th March 2002
Irishman Donal Lunny is again present, lending the band his immense energy and experience, along with Bulgarian Nikola Parov and Dutchman Rens van der Zalm (both of whom toured the United States with Irvine in the mid-'90s).
The newcomer to the group is American old-time fiddle virtuoso Bruce Molsky, who had not worked with Irvine previously, and had only a week to familiarise himself with the complex Balkan rhythms that slyly insinuate themselves into much of Mozaik's repertoire.
But, on Friday night, these five artists shared and explored one another's musical cultures in such a natural way that the result sounded like creative alchemy rather than a forced marriage.
Melodies set to decidedly odd-metred, East European rhythms were buoyed by the irrepressible ``lift" of the best Irish music. American field hollers sat alongside protest songs and slow airs; the heartfelt sentiment of My Heart's Tonight in Ireland rubbed shoulders with the foot-tapping cheer of Shove the Pig's Foot a Little Further into the Fire.
At times, there were five string instruments dancing in perfect unison, like a chorus of harps in joyful overdrive. At other times, one instrument would set itself against the others, creating a beguiling contrast that sometimes conjured up imaginary sounds and colours.
Irvine's mandolin would mysteriously mutate into a hammer dulcimer; Parov's clarinet mimicked the plaintive tones of an Armenian duduk; and Bruce Molsky, using his fiddle to provide chordal accompaniment to his singing, produced overtones and resonances that made his voice sound like an extension of his instrument - or vice versa.
Best of all, there was a palpable sense of warmth and camaraderie that, within minutes of the musicians arriving on stage, dissolved the audience's awe and turned it into sheer participatory pleasure. Often, even without Lunny's throbbing bodhran, the room would vibrate with the sound of hundreds of feet, tapping instinctively as the irresistible force of the music transformed a series of personal musical statements into a universal expression of vitality and life.
THE AGE, MELBOURNE
7th March 2002.
Irish musician Andy Irvine has toured Australia every year since 1989, but this weekend's performance at Port Fairy marks the first time he has brought a band. He has assembled an international, virtuoso line-up in Mozaik. Its members include Ireland's Donal Lunny, an acclaimed multi-instrumentalist and founder of Bothy Band and Moving Hearts, and Nikola Parov, pictured right, who drew attention with his violin playing in Riverdance.
Mozaik's appearance is a coup for the Port Fairy Folk Festival as it will be the first time all the members of the group have performed together.
Irvine, a seminal figure in contemporary Irish music who heads American-based Patrick Street, said the concept for this band took form last year when he was driving near Jerilderie.
"My muse lives in Australia," quips the singer and bouzouki, guitar and mandolin player, who has written a number of songs about Australia.
He wanted a band of musicians he really liked and respected as musicians. His choices reflect, in part, different stages of his career, as well as his interest in engaging with other musical styles.
Irvine and Lunny played in the ground-breaking, 1970s, Irish group Planxty, which transformed Irish music, with Irvine responsible for the Balkan influence in its repertoire.
Parov played on Irvine's 1992 recording of Bulgarian and Macedonian music, East Wind, while Dutchman and multi-instrumentalist Rens Van Der Zalm, joined an East Wind Trio that toured America with Irvine and Parov.
Irvine "discovered" the fifth member, American fiddler Bruce Molsky, at a party. What captivated Irvine was that Molsky was an exponent of "old-timey music" - the American adaptation of the music brought by British, Irish and Scandinavian migrants in the late-19th century.
Speaking from a house where the five musicians have been for the past week, rehearsing each other's material for this weekend's performance, Irvine says, "It is really exciting to put some musicians in a room, lock the door and then see what happens."
The Bulgarian instruments Parov plays include the kaval, a wooded flute, the duduk, a whistle, the gayda, the bagpipe and the gadulka, a violin,
Parov, who is half-Bulgarian, met Irvine at a festival in Hungary about 20 years ago, when he was playing with his band, Zsaratnok.
He joined Riverdance because it was a challenge - to master the discipline of playing notated music - but, after six years, missed the opportunity "to make music much more freely, to improvise".
Mozaik, is "the opposite to Riverdance, playing someone else's music."
"Here we play our music, and make lots of experiments with our music," Parov says.
Mozaik also perform at the Brunswick Festival on March 22.
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