Category: Archive

Live Music Review Fusion fire from Lunny and Coolfin

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Earle Hitchner

DÓNAL LUNNY AND COOLFIN. At the Towne Crier Cafe, 62 Rte. 22, Pawling, N.Y. Sept. 24.

Twenty years ago to the month, Dónal Lunny appeared at this club (though at a different location) with one of the most influential Irish traditional groups ever, the Bothy Band. Since then, the oft-dubbed "Quincy Jones of Irish music" had reformed Planxty, founded Moving Hearts, and experimented with a band in the late 1980s who included current fiddler Nollaig Casey.

Now Lunny heads a septet called Coolfin, named after their new recording, who integrate elements from all those previous groups but present traditional and original material with a more expansive jazz-rock setting. He certainly has the talent to bring it off: besides Casey on fiddle and himself on bouzouki and guitar, there are Tamalin and Lúnasa uilleann pipes/low whistle player John McSherry, keyboardist Graham Henderson (who played with Lunny on Sinéad O’Connor’s "Gospel Oak" EP), electric bassist Ronnie O’Flynn, drummer Ray Fean, and percussionist Lloyd Burn.

The fact that their regular sound engineer was mysteriously AWOL this night — but was capably replaced by tour manager John Dunford — did not faze this ensemble. The concert opener of "The Mouseskin Shoe/Dancing in Allihies," two tunes written by Casey, was tight and rhythmically engaging, led by Casey’s classically inflected fiddling and McSherry’s crisp piping, all deftly backed by Lunny on bouzouki.

Guest Sharon Shannon took the stage next, and the Clare-born button accordionist expertly snapped off "The Swedish Jig," also known as "Arthur Darley’s" and once a staple of the late Donegal fiddler John Doherty. A bit later, Shannon switched to tin whistle on Lunny’s "Spanish Point," a loping, spacious melody that allowed Casey to shine on fiddle, with backing by McSherry on low whistle and Lunny on guitar.

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The evening’s other guest, Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill, was invited up to sing "Siúl a Rúin," and her performance could have melted the most granitic heart. She is among Ireland’s greatest traditional singers, and the arrangement featuring fiddle, guitar, and synthesizer flawlessly set into relief her soaring voice, which was later showcased to equally impressive advantage on "False Fly," a charming Irish traditional children’s song.

Uptempo numbers included Lunny’s "Lucky Lucky Day," driven by rolling, roiling percussion, Casey’s fiddling, and Lunny’s bouzouki strumming. The band also offered a propulsive medley of six reels spearheaded by McSherry’s piping, a pair of sharply etched polkas (one, "Trip to Sado," inspired by the band’s visit to Japan), and two kicking settings of Kerry-flavored slides.

There’s precious little this talented band can’t do well. Trad, rock, jazz, world-beat, they’re all fair game in the innovative hands of Dónal Lunny, a composer, arranger, producer, and multi-instrumentalist of prodigious gifts who invariably attracts the finest musicians to perform this boundary-blurring blend of genres with him. And Coolfin certainly delivered on Lunny’s latest fusion vision this night.

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