Jo Morrison’s The Three Musics

cover art for The Three MusicsChuck Lipsig wrote this review.

“The Three Musics,” according to Jo Morrison, are the three types of music that the ancient Celtic harpers played: the musics of mirth, of sorrow, and of sleep. In The Three Musics, Morrison, along with a number of guest musicians, sets out to demonstrate these three styles, producing a recording of well-played harp music.

Among the high points is the set “The Return of the Stone/The Shepherd’s Crook/The Dogs,” consisting of a march, strathspey, and reel, respectively, that moves effortlessly from the stately to the sprightly, with Morrison ably backed by Bonnie Rideout on fiddle. Morrison also plays a duet with Rideout (playing viola this time) on the lovely air, “O’ A’ the Airts.” Another moving duet – this time with her husband Wayne Morrison, a well-respected piper in his own right – is “Mermaid’s Song/Lochaber No More.”

Morrison also does well without accompaniment. The pair of marches, “Arthur Bignold of Lochrosque/The March of the King of Laois” stands out, especially on the latter, where Morrison makes it sound like there’s a second harp. “The Rights of Man” is another outstanding solo. “Da Slockit Light” (“The Light That Has Gone Out”) is a beautiful, sad tune that was played at the funeral of its composer, Shetlander Tom Anderson.

The final tune is the title track, and Morrison’s own composition. Accompanied by Cathy Alles on flute and Rick Schmidt on cello, it successfully portrays each of the three types of music. Personally, I could have done with a little more music of mirth, but that’s just an individual taste.

The only weak track on The Three Musics is “Sleep Soond in da Morning.” Usually a reel, Morrison’s arrangement slows it down to an air. Unfortunately, the arrangement didn’t work for me. As normally played, there is a jauntiness to the tune; but at this slowed down tempo, it just sounds wrong.

There is an air of scholarship about The Three Musics. Morrison has set out to describe an aspect – or, perhaps, a triad of aspects – of Celtic music and has succeeded in doing so. She could have done more explaining the three types of music in the liner notes. Nevertheless, she has not let the lesson overmatch the music and has created a fine recording in doing so.

(Triharpskel Productions, 1998)

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