Angel Air 2018
From orchestral sweep to acoustic weep, award-winning composer explores the lore of Éire and finds depth through surface tension.
Having scored a few BBC documentary series, for which he brought home BAFTA and Ivor Novello gongs, and a couple of the Harry Potter movies, one bringing him a Grammy nomination, Nicholas Hooper proved his ability to scale grandiose heights, yet the British composer has always had a soft spot for Irish valleys and, more than three decades down the line from “Turning Tables” – the maestro’s collaboration with Chris Leslie – Hooper returned to the less symphonic pastures with a guitar in his hand. Of course, “less symphonic” doesn’t mean “less sophisticated”: weaving exquisite tapestry from traditional threads and Turlough O’Carolan’s fibers, Nick’s nimble fingers reel in the listener’s lyrical instincts close to his own minstrel motives, if not motifs.
There’s no mood-setting overtures in Hooper’s instrumental landscape now, and he’ll waste no time to contrast the lively, if solemn, flutter of “The Blackbird” with the lace-like ache which fills “The Lament Of Owen Roe O’Neill” and make the two tunes breathe – and take one’s breath away when wordless songs seep through pregnant pauses in Nick’s inspired strum. But if each of those occupies its own pride of space, the pairing of “My Love Is In America” with “Star Of Munsterthe” and the segue of unhurried “O’Neill’s March” into fast-paced “Tap The Barrel” show how organic the composer’s approach to folklore is.
Jigs “The Humours Of Tralibane” and “Banish Misfortune” may be the most transparent moments of this album, while the more muscular “Si’Bheag, Si’Mhor” and “The Silver Lining” offer slow dance to anyone within their vicinity, yet, rather unexpectedly, “Derry Hornpipe” reeks of Django-esque jazz. No wonder, then, that the filigree of “Cherish The Ladies” becomes somehow humorous when followed by “Fanny Power” whose title can acquire a double-entendre layer in such a context, even though they arguably are the record’s romantic pinnacle, with the humid twang of “The South Wind” falling not far behind. It could create a puzzle of chamber kind, had the player’s liner notes not provided his personal background to every Renaissance-scented piece on display: a delicate triumph, “Six Strings” is also a quiet delight.