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Dioscai Mandala DMCD003

This CD takes the listener on a remarkable journey through the complex and constantly evolving musical world of one of the most consummate low whistle players around. It’s an uncompromising business, whisking you from the comfort of the Irish tradition to the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and beyond in the company of no less than 17 guest musicians and five singers, all linked by Cormac’s playing and Gavin Ralston’s production. Much of the new material comes from Cormac’s own muse, while several compositions by other composers are featured. This in itself helps to create a sense of cohesion where it would be all too easy for such disparate parts to end up as a chaotic mess.

The result is a seven track offering, varying from under six to over nine minutes in length, each one of which takes you through Cormac’s reaction to a particular concept as perceived by himself and his collaborators. Inevitably, some of these concepts work better for one listener than for another, and there were times when I felt that the abrupt change from one musical genre to another was too sudden – I was being torn from my comfy torpor and made to listen to something too different; but hold on just a minute, I’m enjoying this now, and surely there are some linkages between the two? It’s that sort of feeling – it challenges you and takes you into its creator’s mindset, and it certainly repays repeated listening.

For me the final track Slan Agus Breatnach, a retrospective look at his parents’ lives, is undoubtedly the best thing on the CD and will stay in my top ten for a good while, in part due to Aoife Doyle’s gorgeous vocal intro. As with all the tracks, it is well introduced in the fulsome sleeve notes, along with full personnel credits for each track, and a background to the recording process itself. The notes certainly enhanced my enjoyment of the music and got me on the road to appreciating the concepts.

As the sleeve notes say, Breatnach is one of those people who is outside the comfort zone, probing and extending the limits of the tradition from within. Not every foray ends in success, but the great majority do. For anyone with a mind that’s even half open, I’d recommend listening to this recording; you might well surprise yourself.

John Waltham


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This album was reviewed in Issue 95 of The Living Tradition magazine.