By Joseph Hurley
SANDY SILVA AND LAURA RISK; KARAN CASEY; DERVISH, AND MARTIN HAYES AND
DENNIS CAHILL, at Makor, NYC. Jan. 14.
The 45th annual members conference for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters drew more than 3,000 industry professionals and featured more than 400 showcase events and 300 resource booths from Jan. 12-15 in New York City. Participating musicians and their agents hope to get bigger and better gigs out of it, punching up future tours with more theaters and performing arts centers and fewer bars and small clubs.
That’s the goal, but the reality of performing, one after another, for the people making those decisions can be both daunting and wearying.
There’s a cattle-call, sing-for-your-supper subcurrent to these APAP events that, frankly, is disquieting. But then, as one musician privately confessed, it’s worth it if you can land just two more theater dates on the next tour. Against this competitive backdrop, four Celtic acts were clustered in an APAP showcase that was also open to the public at Makor on the west side of Midtown Manhattan.
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Opening were fiddler Laura Risk and modern dancer Sandy Silva, a former member of Kevin Burke’s Open House who has also danced on occasion with Altan and La Bottine Souriante. With her body miked for sound, Silva relied on creative hamboning and other torso slapping, as well as percussive footwork and some balletic movements, to interpret the music provided by Risk’s fiddling. But Risk was virtually expressionless on stage, shuffling about with little purpose, and only seemed to come alive when Silva accidentally bumped her fiddle with a high-flying kick.
Also, Silva’s use of a swivel stool to lie and twirl around on while slapping and stamping the floor veered more toward vertigo than virtuosity. She has real talent that was awkwardly displayed here. Risk is a competent but unexciting fiddler, and the two never overcame the limitations of their presentation.
Waterford-born singer Karan Casey, concertina and low whistle player Niall Vallely, and guitarist Robbie Overson followed, and their performance was a breath of fresh air. She sang John Spillane and Louis De Paor’s “Buile Mo Chrof” with an edgy tension just right for the song’s aggressive sensory imagery, and Vallely’s adroit concertina playing offered a bluesy bedrock on which she could build. Another Spillane-De Paor song, “You Brought Me Up,” was given an equally stirring treatment by Casey, whose comprehension and caress of the lyric were breathtaking. It was a tight, convincing set from the trio.
Sligo-based septet Dervish performed with wonted high energy and wanting detail. Lead singer Cathy Jordan’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather” was strained and glacial, and the poignancy of “Ar +irinn Nf Neosfainn CT Hf” was partly lost in a sometimes jarring choice of vocal dynamics. She fared far better on “The Cocks Are Crowing,” where her wit successfully informed her approach, and guitarist STamus O’Dowd stood out from his instrumental bandmates in medleys of dance tunes played fast and furious.
Speed is at the opposite end of the musical spectrum that East Clare fiddler Martin Hayes and Chicago guitarist Dennis Cahill explore. The duo break down Irish dance tunes with near jazz-like focus, searching the seams of old melodies for new connections. At times, this can turn into an Irish trad trance act, where long, fastidiously developed medleys of tunes can induce dreaminess and even drowsiness. But when it worked, the effect was transporting and quietly liberating.
— Earle Hitchner