For two decades, harpist Alan Stivell's passionate revival of ancient music has been the heart and spirit of a Celtic cultural revival that reaches from Ireland, Scotland and Wales to the misty coasts of Brittany. No longer quite the angry Celtic Bob Dylan he was in the '60s and '70s, Stivell nonetheless still spoke--in a rare local appearance Saturday night at McCabe's--of the "Republic" of Brittany, and made a jocular reference or two to Francois Mitterand and the much-disliked (in Brittany) centralized control from Paris. More important, he has made vast steps forward musically.
His ancient Celtic melodies were as eerily evocative as ever, calling up phantom images of dark castles and ghostly kings. But Stivell's confidence in his music allowed more contemporary influences as well, with Breton Gavottes and Irish reels that swung with jazzlike energies, East Indian bagpipe melodies and piquantly dissonant harmonizations of Breton hymns.