The route to an album review often begins with an email, usually extolling the virtues of a record that’s the greatest thing since sourdough. The one sent by Illenia Ballacchino, lead vocalist with Áed was rather different asking us to consider the band’s second album, Leaf – diffident, almost apologetic, which attracted us immediately.
Áed are a trio: Illenia, fiddler Helen Maier and bass-player James Künzli, originally a quartet with guitarist Raoul Morat. The band formed when Illenia and Helen met at the Irish Traditional Music Session in Lucerne – so we have a Celtic band based in Switzerland. Illenia says that they are considered a bit experimental but I don’t see it. They mix traditional and original material – more of the former when they started out but the one example here is ‘Siúl A Rún’.
The album opens with ‘Leaf’ written by James who shares the composing duties with Helen. It’s built on a rumbling bass counter-pointed by Helen’s fiddle and guest instruments: Anna Murphy’s hurdy-gurdy, Cillian King’s concertina and Jürg Nietlispach’s guitar. Next is ‘Bruxelles’, the first of three instrumentals, featuring aerophones from Ryan Murphy and Illenia’s bodhran followed by the (relatively) pastoral ‘June’ and I particularly like the way the instruments blend on this song with the addition of Adrian Böckli’s drums.
‘Fíor’ is Helen’s composition and the second instrumental. All three band members share almost-solos with the addition of concertina. The aforementioned ‘Siúl A Rún’ is next with Anna’s hurdy-gurdy adding to the deep drone. Anna’s ‘Lip Jig’ is the final instrumental and the album closes with the rather ethereal sound of ‘Far Away/Highest Throne’.
So, Celtic music from Switzerland. Leaf is complex and modern but with its roots firmly in the traditional world and, while I hate to use the word “unique” Áed’s approach is heading that way.
Artist’s website: https://www.aedmusic.com/
‘Bruxelles’ -live with: Raoul Morat: