Nightnoise, a quartet that somehow manages to blend Celtic folk melodies with chamber music interplay and jazz improvisation, is one of the most unusual of Windham Hill's New Age ensembles.

Their program Sunday night at McCabe's Guitar Shop was a fascinating excursion through a music rich with minor melodies and atmospheric impressionism. Such pieces as "The 19A" (about a Dublin bus), "Duo," "Lament" and "The Cricket's Wicket," with their skirling melodies--often played by pennywhistle and violin--and jaunty 6/8 rhythms, attested to the group's solid Irish foundation.

But Nightnoise is far more than a New Age Hibernian revivalist ensemble. Their best numbers were those that displayed an almost cinematic descriptiveness. A number by guitarist and co-leader Micheal O Domhnaill about the 10 river bridges in the group's hometown city of Portland, Ore., brilliantly created a floating, mood-shifting musical cruise across urban waters.

"City Nights" was equally ambient and featured flutist Brian Dunning playing what was surely one of the first jazz improvisations ever (and a good one, at that) on the Panpipe flute. The vividly impressionistic piece that gave the group its name, "Nightnoise"--written by violinist and co-leader Billy Oskay (the quartet's only American)--buzzed and whirred and chirped with appropriately ethereal after-midnight sounds.

In performance, Nightnoise was not quite up to reproducing the dense, mood-evoking textures of their disks, but, on the plus side, the live milieu opened up a somewhat wider range of individual playing than is present on their recordings.

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