Music : KCT Concerts presents Buille
November's gale-blown woodsmoke and foreboding skies call for a certain stripe of bleak and brooding music. This Friday, Nov. 20, KCT Concerts meets the challenge with a world-class Celtic lineup whose tunes will be quite at home alongside our autumn sea.
Like all Irish groups worthy of the name, the musicians come equipped with tongue-baffling, memory-defying monikers. Buílle (pron. bwee-luh) is made up of Niall Vallely (concertina), his younger brother Caoimhín Vallely (piano), and completed with Ross Martin (guitar). Formed in 2004, Buílle has just released their second album, this one on Crow Valley Music. The new label was recently set up in collaboration with Karan Casey, who joins them in their Vineyard concert.
Although Buílle is Irish for "beat," percussion is rarely overt in the band's music. Instead, many of Buílle's tunes are shot through with a crisp sense of time that is all the more compelling for what is felt, agreed on, and then not played. It is sophisticated, and puts the listener at full attention. A far cry from the sort of coy, insipid Irish pub music that tries to wink its way to your heart, Buílle's sound impresses the hard way: through serious virtuosity, dedicated musicianship, and a tightness won through close attention.
Favoring minor keys and original compositions, the musicians twist clean, delicate threads of melody into an intimate conversation almost classical in its thrift. Niall Vallely is the group's composer. His instrument is most earnestly the concertina, a modest traditional squeezebox that quickly earns respect in his hands. Buílle's sonic philosophy is encapsulated in the way Mr. Vallely commands small sounds, shaping them with intelligence and humor. There is even a song where his concertina imitates its American cousin, the blues harmonica, to surprising effect.
Caoimhín Vallely brings a contemporary jazz sensibility to his piano playing. Imagine Keith Jarrett going Celtic for an evening, and you have some idea of Buílle's classical keyboard underpinning. Harmonically adventurous and rhythmically adept, Caoimhín's keyboard channels piano sound with economy and restraint, the way his brother's concertina keys channel the wind. The two instruments could not be more different, yet more perfect together.
Karan Casey's name will be familiar to fans of Solas, one of the most celebrated Irish bands in the U.S. Now pursuing a solo career, Ms. Casey has released five albums as well as an album for children and numerous contributions to other projects. She has toured constantly throughout North America, Europe, and Japan, performing with such diverse musicians as Tim O'Brien, Karen Matheson (Capercaille), and Lúnasa. She has won awards for "Best Folk Album" and "Best Folk Female" from Irish Music Magazine and been nominated for the BBC Folk Awards.
Ms. Casey has a light supple voice that is sweet on the surface but sure and dark where it is allowed to burrow in. Her understated vibrato is perfectly suited to the double-edged beauty of Celtic music, which can simultaneously seduce and sadden.
As if these musicians were not enough for one evening, they will be joined at the concert by guitarist Ross Martin and cellist Kate Ellis. In the fluid mix-and-match world of Celtic folk music, all have worked together at one time or another for many years.
Luckily, these days one can sample all of these musicians ahead of time on Myspace, iTunes, or Amazon, so buying a concert ticket isn't the gamble it once was. In October, a capacity audience had a wonderful evening when KCT Concerts presented an astonishing acoustic ensemble called The Bee Eaters. Funded in part by a grant from the Martha's Vineyard Cultural Council, the concert series is about to do it again. You have been given fair warning.
Buílle plays with Karan Casey and Kate Ellis this Friday, Nov. 20, 8 pm at Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door, on sale at Alley's Store, Island Entertainment, Aboveground Records and the Scottish Bake House. Children are admitted free at the door.
Daniel Waters is on the staff of The Times.