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Private Label TJR005CD  

A collection of flute and whistle tunes, Beatha is the listening debut of Glasgow-based multi-instrumentalist and composer Tina Jordan Rees. With several albums of step-dancing music behind her, she is well established in that community but much less well-known on the folk or traditional concert circuit. Beatha could change that. Clear tone, catchy melodies and a consistent beat make this music appealing and memorable – and, of course, very danceable! The discipline of step-dance tracks transfers well to this CD, giving a very regular rhythm and tempo: for my personal taste, a bit more light and shade would do no harm, but the Glasgow scene is very receptive to the clubbing vibe of bands such as Elephant Sessions or Niteworks, so I'm sure there is a large audience for music with an almost metronomic beat. For the listener, Beatha is full of great tunes, many of them played at quite a pace, but there's plenty of space to breathe too, and lots of new pieces to learn. The style is generally close to the contemporary Irish tradition: Lúnasa and McGoldrick spring to mind. The album title means “life”, as in “water of life”, and will resonate from Shetland to the Borders and beyond.

Every one of the almost two dozen melodies here was composed by Tina, most fairly recently - she is a prolific writer of tunes, and this selection is all first-class material. Slipjigs and 6/4s, reels and jigs of course, and a couple of more complex rhythms make for a very varied listening experience. Beatha is pretty up-tempo throughout, although there are some calmer moments: the title tune is probably the most relaxed despite its jaunty 5/8 beat. The Cable Cars gets seriously funky, a large dose of understandable swing, and Phuket Tuk Tuk continues the jazzy feel with a saucy syncopated reel. Backing herself on piano, Tina Jordan Rees is ably supported by guitarist Seán Gray, bassist James Lindsay, and Lea Larsen on bodhrán. The balance between whistle and flute tracks seems about even, low whistle in many cases, and the accompaniment never overpowers the solid woodwind melody line. Tina's technique is impeccable, her ornamentation always tasteful and her phrasing practically perfect, a benefit perhaps from her dance teaching experience. It's not often that a debut solo album is so accomplished. Beatha is a breath of fresh air, a top-quality recording, and a great introduction to an immensely talented musician.

Alex Monaghan


This review appeared in Issue 145 of The Living Tradition magazine