Ireland's all-star quintet Lúnasa has become one of the most sought-after bands on the international Irish music scene.
The band's inventive arrangements and bass-driven grooves are steering Irish acoustic music into surprising new territory. Called an "Irish music dream team" (Folk Roots) and "the new Celtic royalty" (Boston Herald), Lúnasa made its world-wide recording debut in 1997, and met with instant acclaim.
Their eponymous self-produced album became an immediate best-seller in Ireland, topping Hot Press' folk charts and called one of the year's top ten by the Irish Echo.
On their first American visit, word-of-mouth led to sold-out shows and rave reviews. "A standing-room only crowd in New York confirmed Lúnasa's reputation," wrote The Irish Voice. "This is the hottest Irish acoustic group on the planet."
They appeared on CNN, and performed at the Hollywood Bowl and the Chicago Celtic Festival.
Named for an ancient Celtic harvest festival in honor of the Irish god Lugh, patron of the arts, L?nasa is indeed a gathering of some of the top musical talents in Ireland.
Its members have helped form the backbone of some of the greatest Irish groups of the decade. Bassist Trevor Hutchinson was a key member of The Waterboys, and later, along with guitarist Donogh Hennessy, he formed the dynamic rhythm section of The Sharon Shannon Band.
Fiddler Sean Smyth is an All-Ireland champion who has played with Donal Lunny's Coolfin; and Kevin Crawford, considered among the finest flautists in Ireland, also plays with the acclaimed traditional group Moving Cloud. Add to this uilleann piper Cillian Vallely (of the same talented musical family as brother Niall Vallely of Nomos and the Karan Casey Trio) and you have the makings of a powerful new ensemble.
Like the younger generation of Nashville musicians such as Béla Fleck or Edgar Meyer, pushing the boundaries of bluegrass into jazz and beyond, L?nasa redefines Irish music by going right to the heart of its rhythms.
With its distinctive use of the upright acoustic bass - brought front and center by Trevor Hutchinson's remarkable playing -- teamed with percussive guitar, the group seeks out the essential heartbeat of a tune.
"There are lots of great melodies in Irish music but often people don't hear the rhythms underneath," said founding member Sean Smyth.
"We try to relate the swing or energy out of the music, using new rhythms, letting each instrument add its own unique layer. We'll play the same tune over and over searching for the groove, exploring it. We let the music find its pulse."
The result is a sound that, though distinctly Irish in flavor, touches on jazz and other improvisational music forms.