Emma Leonard hosts the open mic at Granny Annie's and Laytha unveil Throat of the Wind

Imaginative cousins folk duo Niamh and Philana of Laytha unveil 'Throat of the Wind' down in the Hollow. Bit of an aside today - not jazz at all but we popped along to the open mic session at an Enniskillen spot called Granny Annie's in Skintown …

Published: 16 Feb 2024. Updated: 2 months.

Imaginative cousins folk duo Niamh and Philana of Laytha unveil 'Throat of the Wind' down in the Hollow.

Bit of an aside today - not jazz at all but we popped along to the open mic session at an Enniskillen spot called Granny Annie's in Skintown last night and heard a fine Derrygonnelly singer-acoustic guitarist called Emma Leonard who hosts the weekly session in residence for about a year conjuring Okie alt. country at its heart.

Highlights of the evening when a wider range of songs spooled out included a fine version of Richard Thompson's 1990s ballad 'Beeswing' covered by the great Christy Moore on 2005's Burning Times - the beloved Jimmy MacCarthy classic and Moore favourite 'Ride On' from the 1980s also made a welcome appearance - and a cover of Oklahoma singer Zach Bryan's 'Something in the Orange' not known to us at all hitherto but a US hit in 2022 was a good choice in that Okie direction.

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Doing it for the gran: ''She was a rare thing, fine as a bee’s wing/So fine a breath of wind might blow her away,'' Emma Leonard sings 'Beeswing' at Granny Annie's, photo: marlbank

Later over at Blake's of the Hollow Laytha did a midnight viewing of their fine new Enya-esque song 'Throat of the Wind' on YouTube, the fabulous Niamh and Philana on great form with some ace interpretative dance - yes you read that here first - from Clodagh Sweeney in the film. The backdrop in their video, top, is the river Erne with the road to Sligo in the background viewed through the windows of the Lakeland Forum down by the river on Ceithleann's isle nestled between the two great loughs that gives the place a beating heart. There's a warm wind blowing as Laytha go from strength to strength.

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Michael Thomas, The Illusion of Choice, Criss Cross ***1/2

Updated with Spotify link, above, on release day 8 March I had been dying to listen to this for weeks and just got a listening copy today. Two reasons why, you know what you are getting with a Criss Cross release and recent releases including Lage …

Published: 15 Feb 2024. Updated: 44 days.

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Updated with Spotify link, above, on release day 8 March

I had been dying to listen to this for weeks and just got a listening copy today. Two reasons why, you know what you are getting with a Criss Cross release and recent releases including Lage Lund's latest have been impressive - the Dutch label provides connoisseur-level small group hard bop and beyond nearly always with a very American sound given that the records are generally recorded on the East Coast. That means even if you don't know the artist you can work out roughly what the environment of the record is going to be which is handy when you want to hear new generation new kids on the block. Secondly, it sounds trite but I liked the title of this album. I don't know why thirtysomething alto saxophonist Michael Thomas, who owes strong lineage to Lee Konitz in some aspects of his craft, and unknown to me before this recording, chose the title. But it's a great notion - I understand it only as a cognitive bias that causes people to believe they have more control over their lives than they actually do. That's a seriously interesting if scary concept and Thomas gives us his hard boiled tunes which perhaps are his own uncontrollable creations just having to get out from inside him. Nearly all originals, the only track I didn't like was the cover of 'It Could Happen To You' although I do like the Jimmy Van Heusen tune from the 1940s a lot.

Check out Lee Konitz's beautiful version with Stefano Bollani on Tenderlee (for Chet) [Philology, 1999] and how different that is when you hear the record to compare Thomas' sound although he has more affinity to it timbrally than the fatter, ringing tone of Charles McPherson's also ace 1970s version with Duke Jordan no less, who made history with Bird, on piano.

Here in Thomas' band are fine pianist Manuel Valera - his recording called Vessel last year was good - double bassist Matt Brewer and Monty Alexander drummer Obed Calvaire. Recorded in September 2023 in New York State the line-up was brought together specially for the recording session. The tough sounding strongly contrapuntal flavour often percolating through the tunes and against the improvisations is very flavoursome and isn't for softies at all. Thomas original 'Darkness and Light' is one of my favourites but all the originals make sense. SG. Out on 1 March