Album Review : John Blake / The Narrow Edge

John Blake has finally stood out from behind the mixing desk to deliver his first solo flute album. As a musician, producer and engineer his name is attached to literally dozens of albums.  Not alone as a flute player but also on guitar and piano where his talents are always in demand for supporting roles.  Apart from his early work with Téada he also made two outstanding trio albums with fiddle player Lamond Gillespie and bouzouki player Mick Leahy in the late eighties called Traditional Irish Music From London and The Humours of Highgate.  They picked up on the vibrant traditional scene that existed in London in the strongholds of Queens Park, Kilburn, Highgate and others at the time. John was very much a part of the London scene before he upped sticks and came to Ireland in 1998.  I am a big fan of those two albums and the same ingredients that made them such a success are evident here as well.  This is a traditional album that adheres to the art of Irish flute playing with little external influence or foreign distractions.

He opens the album with a hornpipe/reel combination playing one of his own compositions called The Humours of the Neale paired with Kregg's Pipes.  The bright twinkling from Ruairí McGorman bouzouki tracks his every move and turn. As with a lot of the sets, an overlay of piano kicks in mid tune.  His style is solid and expressive. Breath control and variation of ornamentation is simply outstanding.  Traditional standards like Munster Buttermilk and Pay The Reckoning are handled with sharp precision.  His confidence in his own music dictates that the obligatory slow air on flute does not have to be included.  Instead we get the opportunity for some great slow reels like The Earls Chair and a set of polkas commencing with Farewell to Whiskey.  Gone also is the need to end the album with a set of reels.  Instead we get a great set of waltzes called Mrs.Kenny’s Waltz/The Men of the West with the high low octave exchanges bringing great variety to the track. John is all too aware of where the heart of the music is and he has distilled the best of all those pub years and a decade in production and engineering into The Narrow Edge. This is an inspiring and fulfilling album that finally brings John Blake’s solo flute work centre stage.  Like his earlier work it is pure traditional music and it works all the better for it.  Highly recommended.

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