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Solas Updates Irish Traditions With Intensity

October 19, 1996|DON HECKMAN

The word is starting to get out about Solas, a group that is quickly becoming one of the most praised ensembles in Irish music. The five-piece unit, made up of Irish and American performers, played Thursday night at the Ash Grove before an overflow crowd that was eager to tap its feet with every reel and shed a tear with every ballad.

Solas' most immediately noticeable quality was its remarkable virtuosity. Flutist and multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan is an energetic, driving player who charged the faster numbers with a kind of irresistible Irish swing. And his momentum was matched--often in stirring unison passages--by the similarly propulsive violin of Winifred Horan. John Doyle's guitar work, combined with John Williams' button accordion, provided a rich, almost orchestral-like harmonic texture, and singer Karan Casey's voice had the kind of pristine purity that allowed it to soar cleanly above the ensemble.

Beyond the sheer excellence of its playing, however, Solas also brought an unusual combination of confidence and passion to its performance.

In a mixed program of traditional and original tunes, many drawn from its first album, "Solas," the band played with a level of emotional intensity and spontaneous togetherness that was startling in a collection of players that has only been together for a year or so. The group's constantly evolving, contemporary take on traditional Irish music will undoubtedly play a role in bringing this appealing heritage to a much wider audience.

Singer Mairead Sullivan, opening the show, sang a program of poetic originals and traditional gems with the ethereal voice and serene presence of a Celtic priestess. On one remarkable number, she was joined by singer Shannon Terry, who added a vocal drone to Sullivan's evocative lead.

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