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Antoni O’Breskey is an Italian composer, pianist and trumpet player with a long history of collaborating with Irish musicians and singers, most significantly with Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners. His latest release, Samara, sees him surrounded by a wide variety of musicians from different genres, including many well-known in the traditional world – Máirtín O’Connor (accordion), Tony Byrne (guitar), Joe Mc Hugh (uilleann pipes, whistles), Paddy Cummins (mandolin, banjo), David ‘Hopi’ Hopkins (bodhrán) and Antoni’s daughter, Consuelo Nerea (vocals, fiddle, bodhrán, harmonium).

The album features eight of his compositions, three traditional Irish songs and one traditional tune, and with so many great musicians involved, it couldn’t fail to please. The music meanders between the more traditional sounding (though always with an O’Breskey accent) and other styles, touching on jazz, classical and other distinctly European flavours.

There’s a good, strong, punchy start with Drunken Spider, one of Antoni’s older tunes that would fit easily in Riverdance or on a Mozaik album with Andy Irvine and Dónal Lunny. Then we move into Nomadic Aura, with a change to a more cinematic mood and an increased focus on the piano, with some lovely cello parts. We return to a trad form (almost) with Kevin’s Polka, which features Máirtín O’Connor’s accordion alongside the piano to good effect. (Máirtín and Antoni have worked together previously, and his accordion contributions stand out on Samara – this kind of thing is what Máirtín does really well.) Then we move on to a composition which is decidedly more jazzy in feel, Dancing Leaves. This musical meandering continues, evidencing that Antoni is clearly at home in many different musical worlds, and that while he is obviously influenced by traditional forms, he is not bound by them, or indeed by any genre limitations.

There are three songs – two by Consuelo and one by Antoni himself. Consuelo sings Derry So Fair and The Wee Weaver, and while her vocals are very ‘trad Irish’ in style, the musical settings are a bit less so. They are shimmery and ethereal, creating an atmospheric background for her warm and pleasing voice. Antoni sings The Longford Weaver, from the singing of Andy Irvine, and makes a good job of it too.

Innovative, interesting in its variety, and displaying immense skill and musicianship throughout, this is an album well worth hearing.

Fiona Heywood


This review appeared in Issue 137 of The Living Tradition magazine