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John Walsh: Irlandalucía

Ian Patterson By

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John Walsh: Irlandalucía
A blindfold test for this platter might well elicit the names of Vicente Amigo, Niño Josele or Tomatito, as the listener casts around for well-known contemporary flamenco guitarists —so impressive are these seven dashing originals. The composer and guitarist hails not from the south of Spain, however, but from the south of Ireland. John Walsh first came onto the All About Jazz radar at the 2013 Down With Jazz festival in Dublin, where his bravura performance suggested the flamenco soul of an Andalusian gitano. It is gratifying, therefore, to see a guitarist of such brilliance realize a long-held ambition to record the music he so clearly loves.

It was the impact of hearing Paco De Lucia's album Fuente y Caudal (Polygram Iberica, 1973) that persuaded Walsh—studying applied physics at university at the time—to take his guitar-playing hobby into serious flamenco terrain. Classical guitar studies ensued. Then, in 2008, a performance at Dublin's National Concert Hall resulted in an invitation from Salvador Andrades—who by happy serendipity had studied with Paco de Lucia's father—to study flamenco in Algeciras. Walsh gave up his job as a fibre-optics engineer, made the trek to the tierra of Paco de Lucia's birthplace and has never looked back since.

But it took COVID-19, and with it the cancellation of all Walsh's tutoring and performance dates, to enable the guitarist to find the time, as well as the frame of mind, to commit to recording Irlandalucía. It has been a whole-hearted endeavour, with Walsh recruiting several world-class percussionists to the cause. On all but two tracks, percussionists Gines Pozas, Ruven Ruppik and Pepe Rodriguez weave their respective spells, with the ubiquitous cajon augmented by an array of instruments including shells, rain- stick, djembe, frame drum and clay pot, which import subtle yet distinctive contemporary colors. Traditional claps come courtesy of palmeros Dani Bonilla and Jorge Pérez.

From the lilting opening title track, with its bucolic yet celebratory air, it is clear that Walsh has absorbed much of the sunny melodicism, the rhythmic panache and the dramatic flair of Paco de Lucia. Fleet finger work is a given, but the finesse in Walsh's embroidery of a melody is no less striking. The cascading arpeggios, trilled phrases and explosive little rushes on the solo piece "Reflejo y Sombra"—a romantic minera—are punctuated by pregnant pauses that cradle delicate grace notes. The other unaccompanied piece, "La Añoranza," lacks a fixed rhythmic compás, which serves to draw the ear to the inherently lyrical quality in Walsh's playing.

The delightful soleá "Dos Rios"—a nod to de Lucia's "Entre Dos Aquas"?—sees Walsh glide from caressing unaccompanied intro into rhythmically more assured terrain, accompanied by sombre palmas. Guitarist and palmeros flirt with more urgent tempo before easing up on the reins. Throughout, Walsh plays with terrific fluidity, his cascading runs and dancing motifs punctuated by a rationing of bold rasgueos. The fade-out, just when the music seems about to enter a new phase, is a reminder, as if one were needed, that the stage is the real home of this music.

On the sunny "Cassiopeia," a soleá por bulerías, and the more alegre bulerías "Fuente Nueva," Walsh conjures intricate bouquets of bright melodies, executed with dashing precision and carried on increasingly stirring rhythms. You have to pinch yourself at times, to remember that Walsh hails from Longford, Ireland, and not say, Jerez de La Frontera.

A technically brilliant, deeply beautiful and affecting journey through the heartland of flamenco, and one that bears Walsh's quite personal melodic, rhythmic and percussive stamp, Irlandalucía would likely draw more than a few approving olés in the flamenco shrines of Andalusia. Jaw droppingly good.

Track Listing

Irlandalucía; Reflejo y Sombra; Arco y Limonero; Dos Rios; La Añoranza; Cassiopeia; Fuente Nueva.

Personnel

John Walsh: guitar.

Additional Instrumentation

Gines Pozas: percussion (1); Ruven Ruppik: percussion (3-5); Pepe Rodriguez: percussion (7); Dani Bonilla: palmas (1, 3- 4, 6-7); Jorge Pérez: palmas (1, 3-4, (6-7).

Album information

Title: Irlandalucía | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Air Music Group

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