Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny have collaborated extensively both before and after heady days of Planxty in the early seventies, but this small show at the Pine Cafe in Kichijoji was my first chance to witness either of them first hand. I was lucky enough to see the acclaimed Uillean piper Liam O'Flynn in Tokyo a number of years ago, and as he also contributes to Mozaik's latest album, "Changing Trains", I had harboured the slim hope that he too might make an appearance at this relatively low-key event. That was, almost inevitably, not to be, but the evening was far from disappointing.
This quintet of multifariously talented musicians obviously draws a lot of its influences from Ireland, but with New Yorker Bruce Molsky, Bulgarian Nikola Parov and Dutchman Rens Van Der Zalm also on board there is a musical diversity to Mozaik's work that is seldom found in the world of traditional folk music.
While undoubtedly deserving of a much larger audience, the closeness of a small venue like Pine Cafe is, I think, the perfect place to soak up a band like Mozaik.
It didn't take long for Andy Irvine to start reminiscing, however, the second song in being "My Heart Tonight Is In Ireland", his emotional recollection of plainly good times had in Milltown Co. Clare. While there is sadness in some of their tunes, what really strikes you watching this band perform is the evident enjoyment every single member is deriving from simply being together on stage sharing a unique musical experience with anyone prepared to listen. I can't recall seeing a band smile as much as these boys.
As already mentioned, besides the obvious Irish element there is a very strong European component running through their music, and while Irvine has always made extensive use of the more interesting time signatures found in central European music it is still a little hard to imagine this being pulled of so effortlessly without the incredible talents of Nikol Parov and Rens Van Der Zalm. It is of course true that both Donal Luny and Andy Irvine dabble with a wide range of stringed instruments, although Irvine seemed tonight to be favoring his guitar-shaped bouzouki (possibly a Sobell I have read him talk about), but there seemed to be no end to the array of string and wind instruments being adopted by other members of the band, and as a result the texture of the sound was constantly shifting. And at this point it is worth mentioning how excellent the sound was for the whole of this show. Well done whoever was responsible for that, crystal clarity everywhere.
In a nod to the smallness of the room, violinist and singer Bruce Molsky introduced "Reuben's train", a traditional American folk song now retitled for Mozaik purposes as "Reuben's Transatlantic Express", as being "more suited to the wide open spaces, which this obviously is not". It was a great rendition however, but not quite the showstopper that "I Truly Understand" had been a few songs earlier. This song sees Molsky at perhaps his best in terms of his rendering of the old US Guthrie era songs, and how he manages to accompany himself so superbly on the fiddle is beyond me.
In between the multicultural Mozaik offerings there was a sprinkling of old Planxty for us old diehards, and particularly with "A Blacksmith Courted Me", I swear had you closed your eyes you would think you were in Dublin circa 1974.
One of the encore songs was "Never Tire of the Road", penned by Andy Irvine, and as well as its obviously more valid than ever political message, probably the best possible anthem to his, and indeed Mozaik's, musical philosophy of never ceasing to travel the musical highway.