Lunasa Adapts on the Fly


March 18, 2011

University of Hartford

Is there a better band in contemporary Irish music than mighty Lúnasa? They made their annual swing through the East this St. Patrick's season and the audience at the University of Hartford's Wilder Auditorium came primed to hear them. After an unexpectedly lacklustre opening the band soon hit its stride and regaled the several hundred strong throng with its usual mix of jaunty melodies, most of which were punctuated by Trevor Hutchinson's muscular bass scaffolding upon which flautist Kevin Kennedy let's his instrument swoop, soar, and dive. The opening was a tad rocky, mostly because fiddler Seán Smyth, Kennedy's usual duelling partner had to go back to Ireland mid-tour. (Smyth is a practicing physician and had to go back to return to his practice.) Thus the band was working with a guest fiddler, the very talented Colin Farrell. (No, not that one, rather the former fiddler from Grada.) Farrell had literally been learning some of the tunes in the green room, so it took him some time to get his bearings. But here's the thing about a band as talented as Lúnasa; they're so good that they can adapt on the fly. Once Hutchinson, Uilleann piper Cillian Vallely, guitarist Paul Meehan, and Kennedy got the measure of Farrell, they brought the melodies to him, left him space to innovate, and threw him some solo interludes. He did not disappoint. As impressive as the arrange-on-the-fly adaptations were, it was Vallely who really shone. He's a self effacing and quiet man, but he sure can write tunes and play; some times his pipes buzzed like an agitated hive, while at others they were so deft that they were as subtle as a lullaby. And we always know what we'll get from Kennedy: a shanachie as emcee who wields his flute with the joy of a man who'd pay for the privilege of playing. Most of the material came from the band's two most recent recordings: La Núa (2010) and Sé, though there was also new material from a forthcoming release.

If you've never caught Lúnasa live, stick them at the top of your to-do list. This all-instrumental line-up doesn't need a singer to change the pace or mood. The skill and chemistry that allow them to break in a substitute fiddler before your eyes is the same formula that casts an alchemical spell on an audience.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lunasa's flute player is Kevin Crawford. Altan's flute player was the late Frankie Kennedy.