Celtic Jazz Harp Explorations

Maeve Gilchrist - Song of Delight
Maeve Gilchrist

Song of Delight (Adventure Music America, 2011)
Song of Delight is the latest album by harpist, vocalist, and classically trained pianist Maeve Gilchrist. She is one of those cases where an excellent instrumentalist also develops a career as a vocalist. Although her vocal abilities seem to have plenty of followers, I much prefer her instrumental work as harpist.

Song of Delight incorporates Maeve Gilchrist numerous musical influences which include jazz, classical and Celtic traditional music (her mother is Irish and her father is from Scotland).

I grew up in an extremely musical family,” says Maeve. “My sister plays the fiddle, my brother plays the guitar, my dad plays the pipes and two of my aunts play the harp. There was always music going on in the house, and it instilled a real sense of the joy of music. We also had a fantastic record collection, ranging from Joni Mitchell to Ravi Shankar.”

Maeve arrived at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where she was enrolled as a jazz vocal major. “The underlying foundation of my music is and always will be the traditional Scottish music that I grew up with,” explains Gilchrist. “But the wonderful thing about studying at Berklee was the number of international students and the different cultures they brought along with them. It was then that I really began to explore improvisational music.”

Maeve later moved to Portland, Maine, where she continued her career as a performer and teacher. At a party, a friend introduced her to violinist Darol Anger. she asked Darol if he’d be interested in participating. The result of that musical association, is Maeve’s Adventure Music America debut, Song of Delight, recorded in Maine, produced by Darol Anger. Also on the CD are Scottish bassist Aidan O Donnell, cellist Mike Block, and Anger, with guest performances from violinist Hannah Reed and mandolin player Joe Walsh.

Song of Delight is, says Maeve, ” a very organic and raw CD.” Vocals and harp were recorded live and simultaneously, which, she admits, was “an engineer’s nightmare,” but which ultimately adds to the honest vibe of the project. “Aidan and I had been playing so much together and I wanted to reproduce what we did live, with a developed string sound. The idea of the alternative string quartet was very much born in the studio that week,” she continues. “It’s such a beautiful sound that supports but doesn’t mask the harp and voice. It’s acoustic and yet we’re able to improvise and groove without drums.”

Maeve explains the use of her harp, “It’s hard to find improvising role models for the harp. Saxophone players and pianists have this legacy of players that have gone before them, who they can transcribe and emulate. Harpists don’t really have that. And of course the limitations of the instrument prevent chromatic music from being easily played.”

Gilchrist wrote eight of the CD’s eleven tracks, deriving her inspiration from people and places she’s encountered in her life and work. Song of Delight also includes an interpretation of Stephane Grappelli’s “Automne” (featuring Maeve’s original lyrics) as well as Maeve’s own arrangements of two traditional songs, “Fleur de Mandegore” and “The Dowie Dens o’Yarrow.”

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