copyed and pasted fromhttp://www.shamrockirishmusic.org/id103.htm :
Review of the Jack and Jimmy Coen Concert
Shamrock Traditional Irish Music Society Concert Series
Newtown Meeting House
Saturday 13 October 2001
by Andrew Carey for The Newtown Bee
note: We are proud to call Andrew one of the Shamrogues, for he is not only a terrific writer but one hell of a singer, mandolin, guitar player
Perhaps the single most defining characteristic of Irish traditional music, beyond the scales and rhythms of the tunes, beyond the instruments, beyond the ornamentation, beyond the emotional echo of pubs and farmhouse kitchens and pints of stout and cups of tea and the tang of peat from the fire, is intimacy. Intimacy between musician and musician, and intimacy between musicians and audience. However grand the spectacle and power of Riverdance, however thrilling the virtuosity and variety of a "Chieftains and friends" concert in a packed arena, there’s always something that gets lost in the air between the stage and the seats, and the result always feels a little bit closer to an opera or a symphony: glorious, but not the same thing as an after hours party in a house in Donegal or a session in the back room of a Cork City pub.
That intimacy came to the Newtown Meeting House on Saturday night, brought by the masterful Galway flute player Jack Coen, a resident of the Bronx since 1949, and his guitarist son, Jimmy. With a keyless wooden flute-the same kind Irish musicians have used since the 1800s, when classical players sold them off to pay for the newfangled metal instruments-and a tight-waisted concert size guitar (crisper sounding and less bass-heavy than the popular dreadnought size), the Coens took the audience home to the immigrant community of New York and further across the Atlantic to Ireland, playing not only the common double jigs, reels, hornpipes, polkas, and airs, but single jigs, also known as slides and much associated with County Kerry, and a set of the highland flings, now largely abandoned, which were popular with an earlier generation of Irish dancers.
Between sets of tunes the elder Coen proved himself not only a superior musician but a grand raconteur. Explaining he was playing that night on the flute belonging to his student Donna Stapleton of Fairfield, as his new Australian-made flute was not yet broken in and his old flute was worn and not reliable, he told the story of a farmer who had two dogs and only one licence. When taken into court, the farmer said that when the time had come to register the dogs, the younger dog had been too young to licence, and he’d thought the old dog not long for this world. The judge asked him why he’d thought the old dog would soon be gone, and the farmer replied "Well, he’s so weak he has to set his back up against the wall to bark." That, he said, was the state of his old flute. We all were thankful that Jack Coen and his music need no such support.
Like his father, Jimmy Coen is also known as a teacher and a capable and innovative musician. He has developed his own unique style, very unlike the combinations of rhythmic strumming, basslines, treble countermelody, and chordal vamping used by the majority of Irish guitar players. Rather, he treats the guitar as a melodic instrument, playing the tune in unison with the flute as would a fiddler, a concertina player, or another flutist. The sparse drone and harmony notes which he adds on the other strings are perfectly placed and the only accompaniment needed, both when he doubles his father’s lines and when he plays solo.
It’s hard to pick out the highlights from such a consistently marvelous evening. The tunes played included a few standards, such as "Toss the Feathers" and "Garret Barry’s Jig," but many were less familiar to denizens of the session scene, tunes such as "Jack Coen’s Jig," a old tune which Jack learned growing up, but which became known by that name after it was broadcast on Irish radio by a player to whom he’d taught it. Aside from the dance tunes they played the gorgeous air "Mo Mháthair," ("My Mother"), learned from a Kerry-born button accordionist, and "Madame Maxwell," one of the less often heard compositions of the legendary Irish harper Turlough O’Carolan.
Jack and Jimmy Coen play in the old style, ideally suited to both listeners’ and dancers’ pleasure, with solidly accented rythmns that never become too heavy and a glorious tempo that keeps the blood flowing without ever degenerating into the blaze of meaningless rapid fire notes that too many younger musicians, playing competitively rather than cooperatively, have adopted. They work together as much like friends as like father and son, choosing on stage what they will play next, on the basis of what they’ve played earlier and what they feel like doing, rather than sticking to a formal list.
When I talked with them after the show, both emphasized the importance of learning from those who have gone before. Jack spoke of his own father playing concertina, and said "I was lucky that I grew up hearing the music from the day I was born." As a child he learned music by ear and voice "till I could lilt a tune as easy as talking," then took up first the tin whistle and then the flute. Jimmy said he’d played rock and blues and country guitar from the age of eleven, then realized in his mid twenties that his heart lay with Irish music. When asked his major influence, he didn’t name any guitarist, but instead said "my father." He talked about how he’d learned to phrase and ornament melodies from his father’s playing; in his opinion, the way the music is played on the flute adapts better to the guitar than the style of playing on fiddle or accordion.
The third concert to be held in the Meeting House as part of the Fairfield-based Shamrock Traditional Irish Music Society’s Acoustic Series, the Coens replaced the Josephine Marsh Band of County Clare, who had been scheduled to play a week earlier. Due to the tragic events of September, the latter canceled their entire American tour at the last minute, leaving Newtown and the Society without an October concert. Much to the joy of all concerned, father and son stepped in to fill the breach, which fortuitously coincided with the release date of their own label CD Traditional Irish Music on Flute and Guitar, their first recording together and only the third of Jack’s long and illustrious career (the others including the classic The Branch Line, recorded with his brother, the noted concertina player Father Charlie Coen) as an All-Ireland flute champion, a founding member of the legendary New York Céili Band, a National Heritage Award winner, and one of the foremost teachers of Irish music in North America. Jack and his wife were kind enough to come out from the Bronx on their wedding anniversary, and all of their children and grandchildren who could attend made the trip to Newtown as well.
Sound engineering was provided by volunteers Paul Stapleton and Tim Quinn of STIMS, and this writer can find no higher compliment than to say that the amplification was self-effacing, raising the volume of the wooden instruments’ natural sound to fill the house without altering its essential character. This is the ultimate goal of the sound engineer working with acoustic music, one many of the full-time professionals with touring bands fail to accomplish. The music coming from the speakers was clear and balanced, reaching to the far doors without blowing away the front seats, and preserving the feel that makes a live concert shine above even the best recordings. With my eyes closed, I could almost forget that I was sitting in a seat at a concert and not in a kitchen listening to two deeply sympathetic musicians playing spontaneously for their own enjoyment. That’s how Irish traditional music is supposed to sound, and I’ve never heard it better than I heard it from the Coens last Saturday night.