An all-star band of the new generation, Ímar boasts the prodigious talents of Mohsen Amini (Talisk) on concertina, Tomás Callister (MecLir) on fiddle, Ryan Murphy (Mànran) on pipes and flutes, Adam Rhodes (Barrule) on bouzouki, and guitar/bodhran guru Adam Brown (Rura). It’s no exaggeration to compare this line-up with the formation of Lúnasa, although the chances of Ímar still going strong in 20 years’ time are slim: these are all busy boys, I could have mentioned another half dozen bands where they ply their trade, so let’s make the most of this auspicious stellar conjunction.
The superb quality of the musicianship here is beyond question. What makes Ímar exceptional is their ability to combine old and new music in an innovative but sympathetic way, the essence of the living traditions of Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man. Afterlight opens with what I guess is the title track, blending two new Callister reels with the traditional if improbably-named Hairy Dog Leaf from the Irish tradition. This cracking start is followed by the delicate Air Mignonne by Quebec fiddler Simon Riopel, another close relative of the old Eagle’s Whistle but no less pleasing for that. While you might expect Amini’s flamboyant fingers to dominate, there is actually plenty of space in the melody line for fiddle and flute: switching into David Stone’s 7/8 saunter Luke Skywalker Walks On Sunshine, the concertina seems to be doing more in the left hand, joining bouzouki and bodhran in the driving rhythms.
Padraig Rynne’s slip-jig, Hats off To Dodd, is more of a concertina showpiece, not surprisingly, but the wee button box backs off again for the old Manx tune Colbagh Breck and for Murphy’s reel which finishes this track on a piping high. The Ashbury Slides are evenly shared between pipes, fiddle and concertina, but the Firebird Irish reels feature more of Mohsen’s free reeds over that driving beat. And so it goes: more jigs and reels by band members and carefully selected geniuses such as Damien O’Kane and Brendan McCarthy. A sumptuous slow air by Hamish Napier changes the mood totally, flute and fiddle over finger-picked guitar, with a gentle squeeze of the hexagonal bellows, before the final surprise: Scandinavian 3/2 lyricism on Tuolpagorni from Lappland, a Matheu Watson slip-jig, and a final furious reel from that man Mohsen. All in all, an excellent debut: keep your eyes and ears open for Ímar, and your fingers crossed that their musical alchemy endures for many years to come.