Every now and again a disc comes along and redefines what can be done with cross-genre projects. This is such a disc, the brainchild of Catriona O'Leary, who is also the superb vocalist. Let's take a walk back to 14th century Ireland ...
It wasn't a good time to be a witch. in 1324 Richard de Ladrede, an English Franciscan monk who had arrived in Kilkenny in 1317, charged Dame Alice Kyteler of witchcraft; somehow Kyteler escaped to England (after which we know nothing further about her). There followed in inquisition in which Ledrede was imprisoned himself. Alice's servant, Petronilla de Meath, was captured, and was the first person to be burnt alive at the stake for the heresy of witchcraft; her son,who defended her, was also charged with heresy. For more on Petronilla, this link provides further information.
And so we have the backdrop to this disc. As O'Leary puts it, "the same fertile imagination that composed the phantasmagoric sorcery charges has composed this beautiful, esoteric and richly imagistic poetry we perform here".
The Book of Ossory was compiled in Kilkenny in the 14th century; it includes some 60 verses by Ledrede for his cathedral, St Canice's. O'Leary makes what she calls "speculative reconstructions" of Ledrede's hymns, then, along with her band, she "deconstructed those songs with learned disregard for proper chronology". This is, it should be noted, one of very few discs to ever have come my way that includes a "Select Bibliography," a measure of the care and research that went into the project. Alex Borwick, who recorded and mixed the album, provides a spectacularly involving sound. The dedication of this project is "For Petronilla"; one wonders if there is a connection to be made here with James MacMillan's The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, which he composed in partial attonement for the witch trials and burnings in England.
This disc presents a world of sound unlike any other. A gentle introduction might be Amoris Vinculo, from the French 13th century Chansonnier du Roi (essentially a songbook), the percussion opening setting up one world, over which the melody - froma very different world - floats, hauntingly:
We meet modern jazz in the screaming soprano saxophone of Nick Roth and wonderfully characterful, sometimes spitting bass clarinet of Deirdre O'Leary in En Christi Fit Memoria (do try this one on good headphones!):
And - thanks to the wonders of YouTube - here's a live video performance of that same piece (although given it includes improvisation, it's not identical). The staged is drenched in blue light, which adds to the sense of otherworldliness and remove:
The band members, a varied and highly talented collective, introduce themselves here:
If you're looking for something different, stimulating and beautiful, look no further. A link for purchase at Amazon is directly below ...