Playing with time
Uillean piper Joey Abarta returns to Coffee Gallery Backstage Saturday
With his somber demeanor, buttoned-down attire and thick facial hair, Joey Abarta seems like a character out of time, who somehow escaped from a novel or vintage photograph. In fact, he is a modern-day musician — a Los Angeles native whose passion for Uillean pipes and traditional Irish music has taken him across the country and overseas.
Abarta now lives and teaches in Boston, whose status as home away from home for Irish-born musicians and other ex-pats is legendary. But his love affair with Uillean (pronounced “illan”) pipes began here. Southern California’s well-rooted Celtic music community regularly hosts sessions, dances and other music-related gatherings (far from the nightclub scene, but they aren’t hard to find). Abarta took lessons on Uillean pipes from Dublin piper Patrick D’Arcy, a touring artist and co-founder of the Southern California Uillean Pipers Club.
Abarta subsequently made several trips to Ireland, where he placed second worldwide in the All-Ireland championship at the Fleadh Cheoil (“festival of music”). He also spent time busking on Irish streets — one priceless moment of which is captured in an amusing video posted on his Web site. As he stomps his feet and plays a lively reel on a commercial lane in Galway, Ireland, a weather-beaten woman in a leather coat and dangling cigarette dances away, oblivious to shoppers briskly passing by.
A hefty chunk of Abarta’s repertoire is comprised of tunes that began as roll-back-the-rug dance music, but his most emotionally compelling numbers build spacious melodies from his complex instrument’s resonant drones. Uillean pipes, which are typically played sitting down and sport a two-octave range, have a more sweetly melancholy sound than Scottish Highlander or other bagpipes, which suits heart-piercing instrumentals such as “The Dear Irish Boy” and “The Bonny Bunch of Roses O.”
Abarta, who also tours with Mick Moloney and the Green Fields of American, recently completed recording his first solo album. He’s currently preparing it for release this fall — presumably in time for the 2012 Southern California Tionóil (piping convention) taking place Nov. 9-11 in San Juan Capistrano. Chances are good that he will give some of those tunes a test run when he returns to the Coffee Gallery Backstage this Saturday.
Joey Abarta performs at Coffee Gallery Backstage, 2029 N. Lake Ave., Altadena, 7 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $18. For reservations and other information, call (626) 798-6236. To learn more about Abarta, visit Joeyabarta.com; to find out more about the 2012 Southern California Tionóil, go to socalpipers.com.