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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Alan Stivell: Trema'n Inis


1) Stok Ouzh An Enez (En Vue De L'Île); 2) Hommes Liges Des Talus En Transe; 3) Rinnenn XX; 4) An Eur-Se Ken Tost D'Ar Peurbad (Cette Heure Si Près De L'Éternel); 5) Negro Song; 6) E-Tal Ar Groaz (Face A La Croix); 7) Ar Chas Doñv'yelo Da Quez (Les Chiens Redeviendront Sauvages).

Not much to say here. The album serves a very specific and narrow purpose — a tribute to Alan's recently deceased father Georges Cochevelou, much less known than the son but without whom the son could never exist nether physically nor artistically; it was Georges, a professional inter­pre­ter and connaisseur of all things Breton, who originally «reconstructed» the Celtic harp in 1953 and taught the young Alan to play it.

So Trema'n Inis ("Towards The Island") is almost entirely dominated by the harp, and not so much in an «explorative» way as simply to serve as quiet, meditative background to various bits of Breton poetry (some of it in French, actually), credited to various Breton poets of all ages. The poetry, all of it available in French translations in the liner notes, is surprisingly decent, and only the uncouthly titled 'Negro Song' is expressly hammering in rough Breton nationalism ("I am Bre­ton, I was a slave", it starts out); the rest is dedicated to much more transcendent issues.

Unfortunately, there is nothing else to the record. It either functions as a bunch of meditative back­ground sonic waves, or as a crash course in the fundamental values of Breton culture (al­though, to be frank, once you filter out all the Christian and XIXth century European influences out of it, it is not quite clear how much is left for the truly «fundamental»). The sixteen-minute long 'Hommes Liges Des Talus En Transe' is enough to test your determination — if your inner Celt may be awoken, you will remain «en transe» for all of its duration, but if there has never been an inner Celt in you, you will want to turn it off the very second that Stivell puts down the harp and starts the first of many pathos-spreading French recitatives.

'Negro Song', as a musical composition, is the only track that stands out, with a grand, chilly stop-and-start structure that counts as a «hook», I guess. It is well worth searching out (and you may disregard the lyrics altogether — Breton discrimination, although undeniable as in the case of just about any national minority, is still somewhat embarrassing to compare to black slave discrimina­tion). The rest of the record... well... more Celtic harp, gentlemen?

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