at the National Centre for Early Music,
Exciting Irish quintet Lunasa recently launched an extensive world tour in the UK, one of the first gigs being in York. They've just released a CD recorded live in Kinnitty Castle, and in this fast-paced, incredibly enjoyable set, they belted their way through many of the tunes from this album. Lunasa is noted for their tight, punchy, expressive delivery of traditional Celtic tunes, and they excelled this evening.
Firstly, I must comment on the excellence of the venue's sound (the National Centre for Early Music is a converted church) -- this is an impressive building, attracting increasingly prestigious jazz/world/folk acts. Soundman Richie Ford did the superb acoustics proud, and it was hard to believe that just five musicians created such a satisfyingly resonant sound. Second, the sheer range of material Lunasa performed impressed me enormously. Their clever arrangements (over a two-hour set) meant that they crammed in enough tunes to fill a double live album!
For my own part, I was won over by the consummate abilities of bassist Trevor Hutchinson and acoustic guitarist Donogh Hennessy in setting the breathtaking rhythms, grooves and bass lines for the rest to follow -- they were thrilling to listen to. Their consistency ensured that Kev Crawford (flutes/whistles/bodhran), Cillian Vallely (uillean pipes/whistles) and Sean Smyth (fiddle/whistles) had the perfect backdrop upon which to display their own glorious Celtic lyricism. I suppose that with Hutchinson playing upright electric bass, you can't really call Lunasa's music 100 percent acoustic, but this seems to matter little when they create such an enjoyable sound.
The musicianship was excellent. From the superb opening "Wedding Set," which immediately revealed the mettle of Lunasa's incredible rhythm section, the band worked through traditional Irish reels and jigs, Breton dance tunes through to a superb Bulgarian tune "Djinovsko Horo" (with three musicians playing whistle at the start). The set also included tunes by Galicia's Carlos Nunez, "Aires De Pontevedra," and also one by La Bottine Souriante.
Vallely piped a beautiful slow air, "The Wounded Hussar," and Smyth showed real fiddle virtuosity on the superlative "A Punch in the Dark," culminating in a dazzling performance by all. Crawford even played twin flutes on the excellent (and aptly named!) "Walrus Set." The reels, including "The Rockfield Set," "Rathlin Island" and "Ballyogan Reel," displayed a jazzy panache and an intense lyricism. Crawford also played a great bodhran solo on "The Almost Reels." With great tunes like Kevin Burke's "The Split Rock" and the excellent "Jerry O'Sullivans/The Dimmers," we were spoilt for choice.
A satisfied audience was left reeling from the band's encore, "The Dusty Miller." I thought the band's rapport with the audience was good, too, though Crawford tended to lead proceedings. Lunasa must surely be one of Ireland's hottest live acts on the circuit today -- I couldn't fault this gig!