- Konogan an Habask : bombarde, biniou, uilleann pipes, whistles
- Thibault Niobé : guitare jazz & folk, bouzouki
- Erwan Volant : basse
- Gabriel Faure : violon, mandole, viole d’amour
- Elsa Corre : chant, kayamb
- Jéröme Kerihuel: batteur-percussionniste
Invité : Patrick Péron : Orgue Hammond
This is the second CD from Konogan An Habask, the former biniou player from the group Startijenn. An Habask clearly had a lot more talent than the limited palette allowed in Startijenn, so it made perfect sense for him to jump ship after a number of Startijenn’s formulaic recordings failed to break new ground. His first solo effort was titled “D’Ar Pevarlamm” and rather than being marketed as another solo title, this second release gives that name to the mostly same group as a whole, which is kind of a classy move. The performers are really first-rate and include Erwan Volant on bass (Hamon-Martin Quintet), Thibault Niobé on guitars and bouzouki (Penn Gollo), Gabriel Faure on violin (who is perhaps the revelation of this recording), Elsa Corre (Duo ar bas, Kreiz Breizh Akademi) on vocals in both Breton and Galician and Jéröme Kerihuel (‘ndiaz) on drums and percussion. An Habask shows once again that he is a highly talented bombard, uilleann pipe and biniou player.
That first recording won the prestigious ‘grand prix du disque du Télégramme’ award for 2012, so it is no surprise to see that Deltu is a serious affair. What I mean by that is that this is a high-budget project with tremendous players, lavish production and deluxe packaging. An Habask describes the second album as an evolution of the first: “This album allows us to offer listeners the evolution of PEVARLAMM: a concert music that combines catchy dances ( gavottes, reels, jigs… ) and moving songs. A music in which bombard and biniou also offer an innovative virtuosity.” (translation mine)
Deltu is obviously intended for commercial success, and in this case that is both a blessing and curse. That is because while this recording is undoubtedly going to enjoy significant commercial and perhaps critical success, it is still not very satisfying. My guess is that the intended audience is not so much the traditional music community as those with a taste for contemporary pop music who might want to let their ears take a polished celtic side-trip. Those who relish many of the recordings of Dan Ar Braz or Carlos Nuñez, for example, will undoubtedly enjoy putting this CD onto the player tray right next to those, and letting the romantic swoosh of glossy sound carry them away into a misty celtic space, and then be brought back down to earth by outbursts of frenetic virtuosity on traditional instruments, slick jazz guitar, bass and drums.
What we have here is a melange of amorphously celtic music with some prog-rock influence and a gleaming production sheen. Unfortunately, this results in arrangement and production that is often wildly overcooked. Softer tunes such as ‘Ton Sioul’ really sound like elevator music, and even the more appealing ‘Anjeluz Amzer Fask’ still suffers from a cloying schmaltziness. (schmaltz: from Yiddish, figuratively: a work of art that is excessively sentimental, sappy or cheesy). On the other end of the scale, uptempo pieces such as ‘Un Droiad Fest Mod Pourled’ veer off course with overly grandiose arrangements that don’t serve the piece well.
‘Polka Gus’ is a standout in this sense, featuring a merciless pulse of fast staccato notes played with metronomic precision by An Habask’s bombard. To be perfectly clear, this represents an astonishing display of skill. If you make a rapid series of “ta ta ta” sounds with your mouth, you are recreating the basis for what is called ‘tonguing’ the note in oboe parlance, and this is a staple technical skill that oboists around the world practice as a major means of articulation. This tune probably exceeds the most advanced tonguing exercises in classical oboe methods by teachers such as Marcel Tabuteau; it is truly remarkable. I was at first impressed, then as the barrage went on and on stupefied, and finally somewhat overwhelmed and repulsed. I played the tune for a colleague, a former symphony oboist who is very seriously into breton music. “Wow that’s really impressive technique” she said, followed shortly by “You know, it isn’t actually good music, though.”
Talented vocalist Elsa Corre is featured on much of the CD, singing in Breton and Galician. I have seen her as half of ‘Duo du bas’ and was quite impressed. In a more strictly traditional, unaccompanied Breton vocal setting this young singer has a quality not dissimilar to the great Annie Ebrel, and that is really remarkable. On Deltu, however, her sound falls short, particularly on the Galician pieces where her voice just isn’t the right sauce for a dish from northern Spain. Most of the vocal pieces on the recording seem to be trying to reach for a highly charged, dramatic quality, and Corre’s delivery here, for whatever reason, doesn’t quite have what the material calls for.
Deltu is a recording filled with striving and excess. It tries too hard to be sweet, tries too hard to impress with musical ‘chops’, tries too hard to blend a broad spectrum of different musical styles. Discerning listeners looking for a more trad experience might find it a bit much and toss it onto a dusty shelf after a couple tries, but my guess is that those with more mainstream sensibilities looking for a ‘celtic’ diversion may find those same excesses moving and delightful. It’s a matter of taste. It is a personal vision brought to life by an extremely talented player and as such has a lot of interesting moments, but as a whole it is not a vision that I can really enjoy.