It goes without saying that the New York City cultural bastion known as Lincoln Center would be on top so many great world music productions to be found in today’s creative artistic realm.
Once before Lincoln Center presented one of the more unique ensembles operating in the Irish music sphere, the Gloaming, for an outdoor summer festival series in Damrosch Park, and now they are about to host the group again, this time further uptown at Symphony Space as part of the White Light Festival which is a celebration of multidisciplinary arts at Lincoln Center and at other venues around the city.
The spacious yet still intimate 800 seat venue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side will provide the potential for the largest audience the Gloaming will have appeared before in the Big Apple should they reach capacity for their Friday, October 16 8 p.m. gig.
By my reckoning this marks their fifth appearance in New York City, and it comes as the closing engagement of a short U.S. tour for the quintet which features two U.S. based artists and three who reside in Ireland.
In case you have not heard about them before, iconic Co. Clare fiddle player extraordinaire Martin Hayes, more or less is the leader of the musical collective along with long-time friend and musical partner Dennis Cahill from Chicago, whose guitar work and production values have been highly respected for decades form one sector.
Ireland’s preeminent sean nos singer from the Cuil Aodha area of West Cork, Iarla O Lionaird, whose expressive style of singing in Irish featured prominently in the innovative rock group the Afro-Celt Sound System, was recruited for this new musical adventure.
Hayes well-rooted in the traditional canon of East Clare and beyond thanks to his father P. Joe Hayes and the Tulla Ceili Band of which P.J. was a founding member almost 70 years ago, built a very successful career working in and around the tradition, drawing us emotionally along with his teasing out familiar tunes as he experimented with tempos and tune-sets.
He became aware of Dublin fiddler Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh, whose music took a similar path of exploration with traditional music looking for self-expression that suited his own personality.
O’Raghallaigh shares with Hayes a low-key temperament but possesses a similar flare in playing, with a personal style that stands out on its own but also lends itself easily to collaboration. It is doubly enhanced now with O’Rahallaigh playing his twin-stringed hardanger/viola d’more instrument providing even more textured nuance to their playing.
The most eclectic and important piece of the puzzle is a young musician outside the Celtic circle, Thomas Barlett, who as a 12-year young musician in Vermont became so infatuated with Hayes’ music that he stalked him with his parents one year as they toured Ireland and Hayes was playing in different parts of the country.
Bartlett moved to New York City and became a key cog in the wider independent music scene in Brooklyn and the Village as a highly regarded pianist/producer known as Doveman. Hayes sought him out when he was looking to do more than just his still successful duet act with Cahill, something along the lines of a classical or jazz ensembles but still based around Irish music and themes.
Along with Cahill, Bartlett’s thoughtful and engaging accompaniment gives a creative foundation for much of the spontaneous musical combustion that characterizes the Gloaming’s performances.
Though the Gloaming was just one of Hayes’ collaborative efforts in recent years (Teetotallers with Kevin Crawford and John Doyle and Triur along with O’Raghallaigh and Peadar O’Riada) it seemed the one that most caught the fancy outside the borders of the traditional music landscape.
Even as the troupe was beginning its first rehearsals back in 2011, they sold out two shows in Dublin’s National Concert Hall just on the reputations of the artists involved, and participated in a multi-faceted show at one of Bartlett’s musical haunts, Les Poisons Rouge in the West Village as part of a live Other Voices project closing out Cultural Ireland’s campaign showcasing the Irish arts in 2011.
It attracted the awareness of Bill Bragin, the world music impresario behind the multicultural festival Globalfest that takes place in early January to showcase talent from around the world during the annual booking conference for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters in 2012.
Not only did he create a spot for the Gloaming that January at the Webster Hall extravaganza attended by the then Minister for the Arts Jimmy Deenihan, in his other role as the director of Lincoln Center Outdoors programming Bragin found another spot for them to perform a couple of years later.
They have had two tours of America so far and over to London to perform at the Barbican and also the Royal Albert Hall last year as part of a major Irish cultural performance, “Ceiliuradh,” marking the first Irish state visit to Great Britain by President Michael D. Higgins.
Part of the fascination of the Gloaming is its penchant for surprise and spontaneity even as they follow a set list following from their-self-titled CD. It is a live performance to be savored rather than categorized because it doesn’t fit into any of the boxes you have probably experienced with Irish music.
If you haven’t seen or heard of the Gloaming by now, you might want to give it a try when it fills Symphony Space with its magic spell. Tickets can be ordered at www.symphonyspace.org.