By Ann Herman
Lunasa has taken the sounds and rhythms of Celtic music on a wild trip into new musical territory over the past 10 years. A packed Atwood Concert Hall went along for the ride Friday night. The five musicians fired up tunes ranging from “old country” ballads they arranged to their own original works. All were stamped with Lunasa’s signature style: intelligent, energetic and grounded in rhythm.
The five members almost come across as jazz musicians, experimenting with the musical groove and the energies behind the melodies. Friday night much of that rhythmic grounding came from Trevor Hutchinson on the double bass, an instrument that isn’t often center stage in traditional Irish bands.
Hutchinson was stunning in three reels from Lunasa’s “The Merry Sisters of Fate” CD. His bass positively twanged as he picked out echoing, off-beat sounds.
Fiddler Sean Smyth swung on top of the bass and met up with Kevin Crawford’s earthy flute. In “The Road to Barga,” Hutchinson’s bass pulled in the bright, high notes of flute and fiddle, giving even the more traditional jigs and reels a plumper, more physical sound. Flutist Crawford was a master at taking these rougher, earthier sounds all over the place. He played his flutes and whistles with flat-out passion, chewing off notes from these usually delicate instruments in songs like “Sporting Paddy” and “Good Morning.”
“Leckan Mor,” composed by Lunasa’s uilleann piper, Cillian Vallely, began with guitarist Paul Meehan. Crawford entered with the tin whistle and the two set up a melody that was filled in with fiddle and bass. They repeated the melody with subtle differences in tone, speed or instrumentation so that the song became a journey they traveled rather than a sonic marking-in-place.
“The Wounded Hussar” was a startling solo for Vallely. His pipes groaned a melody that he played out in carefully chosen notes full of ancient tears and loss.
But these Irish lads were nothing if not happy fellows and they slipped easily into a swinging “The Ivory Lady.” Vallely joined them and they all flew off into the higher musical registers, with the slightest of pauses, before a flutter of flute-y notes ended this delightful song.
Lunasa’s Anchorage concert was a look at the future of Irish music. These musicians showed that they have the talents to honor the long traditions of Celtic folk music while launching it into new. sophisticated directions.
CREDIT: Anne Herman holds a master’s degree in dance and has been a consultant for the National Endowment for the Arts.