OCTOBER IS A little early to start celebrating St. Patrick's Day, even among the most devoted Irish. But when fiddler Eileen Ivers plays, it's hard to keep from dancing a jig and thinking what a beautiful color green is.
Ivers, a native New Yorker, became most widely known for her vigorous performances as an original member of Riverdance, touring with the company for three years and earning her own featured solos. Today, her music goes beyond the traditional to encompass the many sounds she grew up with, from Latino rhythms to African ju-ju, hip-hop to jazz, all held together by her love for the old music.
Ivers was only 8 years old when she first took up the fiddle. Growing up as the daughter of first-generation immigrants in the staunchly Irish neighborhoods of the Bronx, she traveled and won the All-Ireland fiddling championship seven times; she even picked up an eighth All-Ireland title on tenor banjo.
"The traditional music is a gift to be given and passed down in its purest and truest sense," she says reverentially.
Nonetheless, Ivers' music takes a world view. "I feel world rhythm elements complement the essential rhythms of traditional Irish music," she says.
Ivers' "Crossing the Bridge" band, named after her latest album, includes Puerto Rican percussionist Emedin Rivera, as well as uillean piper Jerry O'Sullivan and vocalist Tommy McDonnell. They're joined by guitarist John Doyle, last seen in Tucson as a member of the neo-Irish band Solas (Solas will return to Tucson November 4). South African bassist Bakithi Kumalo, famous for his work on Paul Simon's Graceland, was originally scheduled to tour after appearing on Ivers' album, until Simon began assembling a tour of his own. Leo Traversa will replace Kumalo.
"The Latin rhythms really complement the rhythms of Irish tunes," Ivers explains. "It's not quite on the on or the off beat, but on the 'and' of 'one and two and three and four,' percolating under the tune, which kind of propels the whole rhythm."
"The heart of the show is definitely the Irish music, presenting it from the airs and the dance tunes," according to Ivers. "We try to take folks on a little journey throughout the evening with a little song and dance."