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    Inside the twilit wanderings of Irish music supergroup The Gloaming

    From left: Martin Hayes, Iarla Ó Lionaird, Thomas “Doveman” Bartlett. Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, and Dennis Cahill of The Gloaming.
    Rich Gilligan
    From left: Martin Hayes, Iarla Ó Lionaird, Thomas “Doveman” Bartlett. Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, and Dennis Cahill of The Gloaming.

    If you don’t immediately recognize the meaning of Irish-American supergroup The Gloaming’s name, you won’t be alone. It’s an archaic word for “twilight,” and their music feels like an ideal backdrop for a solo evening amble. Martin Hayes’s agile fiddle dances atop the drones that Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh coaxes from his 10-string “Hardanger d’amore” fiddle, guitarist Thomas “Doveman” Bartlett’s rhythmically adventurous piano meshes with Dennis Cahill’s more straightforward strumming, and Iarla Ó Lionaird’s simmering, willowy voice winds through it all.

    But even without knowing the word’s meaning, the music of The Gloaming sounds like its name: dusky, spacious, enigmatic. This month, the band is conducting a quick American tour, making a stop at the Berklee Performance Center Sunday.

    On the phone from his Manhattan studio, where he’s recording with bossa nova star Bebel Gilberto, Bartlett says he’s used to being the one that plans things. But when he was tapped by Hayes, a childhood fiddling idol of his, he had to say yes. At a certain point, Bartlett’s path diverged from the traditional music scene in which he’d been immersed growing up in Brattleboro, Vt. Now his production and performance resumés feature a varied cast of characters, including Sufjan Stevens, St. Vincent, Yoko Ono, and Eminem.


    However, he wasn’t reluctant to return to his roots with The Gloaming. “Martin, for me, is one of those players who very much transcends genre,” he says. “I didn’t even particularly think of it as, ‘Here I go back into folk music.’ It was just like, ‘Oh my God, I get to play with this astonishing instrumentalist.’ ”

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    The Gloaming, which bested artists including Hozier and U2 for Irish Album of the Year in 2014 at the Meteor Choice Awards, sounds like no other major Irish traditional music outfit. The most immediately noticeable difference is the tempo; the whirling melodies of jigs and reels are often played much slower than the usual brisk pace, leaving plenty of room for fascinating harmonic games in between the notes.

    “I’m just taking, harmonically, a language that doesn’t usually get put into traditional dance music, or traditional Irish music,” says Bartlett, who has also produced all three of The Gloaming’s numerically titled albums, with the most recent released in February. “Rhythmically, I’m very often playing against the rhythm, or making things expansive. I think there’s this core of something driving and dancing, and then there’s painting around it.”

    “I think there’s a lot more hidden inside the tunes than meets the ear. When they’re played fast they kind of disguise themselves as happy, fairly lightweight dance tunes,” says Ó Lionaird, who also contributes to the instrumental texture with a droning harmonium. “Within that slowing down you can still keep a pulse going that creates a trance-like feel. You have a dream space that people experience when they hear the music of The Gloaming. Because what we love to do is wander off.”

    One could say Ó Lionaird has built his entire career on wandering off. Over the phone from his house in Ireland’s County Kilkenny, with interference from a nearby electric fence drumming on the telephone line, he provides a crash course in the long tradition of sean-nós (Irish for “old style”) singing, the foundation of the distinctive vocal style he’s brought to all his varied projects. There are what he calls the “big songs,” which are usually love songs or lamentations. There are comic songs, historic songs, and more.


    But since his early days, he’s always connected more with music than words, he says. “Early on in my life I tended to valorize the melody, because the subject matter [of sean-nós songs] was a little beyond my cognition,” Ó Lionaird says. “And that kind of stuck with me.” Even if a listener doesn’t understand the Irish language, or know if he’s singing a traditional sean-nós song or a modern poem set to his own melody, his voice pulls in listeners.

    And not understanding absolutely everything that’s going on, says Bartlett, can make for something special. “There’s a way in which the less information [the audience has], the better,” Bartlett says. As a listener, he explains, not having much background on the meaning of music puts him in a receptive state of mind, and the emotional experience is more open-ended. “I like that our music has all this tradition in it, but also has modern elements, where you don’t quite know which is which.”


    Presented by World Music/CRASHArts. At Berklee Performance Center, Boston, April 7 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $30-$48, 617-876-4275,

    Zoë Madonna can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten.