Dancer Kieran Jordan with Seán McComiskey and Seán Clohessy.
By Daniel Neely
Surely there are few albums of set dance music that touch the majesty of Eugene O’Donnell & Mick Moloney’s “Slow Airs and Set Dances,” an exquisite album that should be in the collection of any serious traditional music fan. However, dancer Kieran Jordan, button accordion player Sean McComiskey, and fiddler Seán Clohessy, have provided us an album with a similar focus that lovers of that album will welcome. “Cover the Buckle” is an incredible exploration of set dance that brings focused attention to the intersection of music and dance in a most excellent way.
Jordan is the motivating force behind this project. I’ve written about her in this column before, but for those who don’t know Jordan grew up in Philadelphia in the Mick Moloney/Eugene O’Donnell/Seamus Egan orbit and now lives in Boston. She is a world-class dancer and choreographer, and an expert on sean-nós dancing. Always a brilliant student, she worked with some of the finest as she developed and in the process earned a Master’s Degree in Contemporary Dance from the University of Limerick and holds TCRG certification for teaching Irish dance. She’s produced a pair DVDs on old-style Irish dance (“Secrets of the Sole” and “Musical Feet!”), was awarded a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship in 2008 and a Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant in 2010, and is an in-demand teacher at festivals throughout the country.
Sean McComiskey is one of America’s great button accordion players. Considered an innovator on the instrument, he grew up in the music, learning from his father, the recent National Heritage Fellow Billy McComiskey and has been a mainstay of the vibrant Irish scene in Baltimore. Over the course of his life, McComiskey has had the opportunity to play with all of the very best players and has developed a very strong individual voice that can be heard in bands like the Old Bay Céilí Band, NicGaviskey, and Charm City Junction. He is a top musician.
Originally from County Limerick, Seán Clohessy is a gifted fiddle player with special insight into the music. He was raised in a musical family (New York readers will be interested to know he learned from Maureen Glynn as a young man) and spent several years living in London, where he was influenced by fiddle player Brendan Mulkere. After a stint in New York, he moved up to Boston where he is one of the scene’s true leaders.
The two Seans are brilliant musicians individually, but their duet work on “Cover the Buckle” is spectacular. They play with great sensitivity to each other when it’s warranted, but their individual styles also shine on several tracks throughout. The flair in their playing is intensified by Jordan’s dancing, which is well executed and gives the album special lift. Indeed, her footwork is outstanding: the precision and inventiveness in her steps comes across as fresh and innovative, and helps make the combination of the three artists working together really something to hear.
Take, for example, the album’s opener, “Mount Phoebus Hunt / The Hunted.” The playing is strong throughout the track, but it’s Jordan’s dancing, which slowly unfolds and builds in velocity and intensity, that excites me the most here. Her footwork also stands out on “Three Ducks and a Goose,” a great track for the tune and the dancing. Matt Mulqueen’s piano playing is also lovely here, as it is throughout the album. One of the things that I find helps the album work is the sound of Jordan’s dancing is the lovely timbre that comes from her shoes. It blends wonderfully with the fiddle and box, on O’Carolan’s Draught, where the warm woodiness of her feet fits in with the fiddle and the box, and later, the guitar, as played by guest artist Josh Dukes. Experienced dancers will surely find much to revel in here!
One of the album’s most interesting tracks is “The Blackbird.” At the beginning of the track, Jordan dances the tune by herself, the melodic lyricism in her footwork very apparent. She then sits out the rest of the tune while Clohessy and then McComiskey take a solo feature. Both offer a lovely and very different interpretation of the tune, and then come together at the end to do a once-through duet. It’s just beautiful.
Another favorite track without dancing is the “Oslo Waltz/Augusta Waltz.” Both are spectacular choices that work fabulously together. They’re delivered with great sensitivity and at a perfect tempo for dancing. Listeners who love waltzes will have a hard time not dancing to this track.
“Cover the Buckle” is a delightful and wonderfully nuanced album. It was made primarily with dancers in mind. Jordan notes her search for the “perfect” set dance recordings and in fact includes a note about how the crew handled intros, tempos, and lengths, to make sure those who want to dance to are oriented to how they have adhered to and strayed from convention. However, the music’s sweetness also makes it an album for listeners. All of it comes together to in such a way that artfully showcases the important connection between the music and the dance. If you’re a dancer, this musico-terpsichorean endeavor is a must have. Folks who love rich, relaxed playing will want this one as well. Great stuff!
By the way, congratulations are in order as Jordan recently opened the “Kieran Jordan Dance Studio” in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Jordan’s reputation as a teacher is impeccable. Her gentle but directed hand has mentored one great student after the next, and we wish her nothing but the best! For more info about the album and the school, visit kieranjordan.com.