Solas: The Stride Set
This week on Star Maker, we will be taking a broad view of the term “dance music”. Human beings, in the earliest days of our existence, probably learned first to pound on things, next to sing, and then to dance. Dancing is common to every culture on earth. It can obviously have a social function, but some ritual dances are important parts of religious observances. And there are also dances created as forms of artistic expression, each with their accompanying music. So, there is a rich menu of music for dancing to choose from, and we will sample some of it this week.
Given all of that, I did not think it was time, musically, to leave Ireland quite yet. Hopefully, most of our readers know that there is far more to Irish dancing than just Riverdance. First and foremost, Irish dancing originates not as performance pieces, but as social dances. Jigs and reels are probably the best known forms, but there are also waltzes, polkas, and other more exotic types. The Stride Set is a set of reels. Irish dances are often played in sets. Musically, this serves the same function as dividing a song into a verse, chorus, and bridge. For the dancers, it creates an extra thrill in what is already exciting music. The Stride Set is made up of four reels: The Stride, Tom Doherty’s, The Contradiction, and Viva Galicia. The first and last were written by members of Solas, while the middle two are traditional. Each reel not only has a different melody, but also a different arrangement. The transitions are flawless, even as the band members join in or drop out. The Contradiction even has a conversation between two banjos, played by Seamus Egan and guest musician Bela Fleck. Many other Irish bands don’t perform their dance sets with quite this much abandon, but the excitement is always there. For an extra thrill, check out Bill Laswell’s remix of The Stride Set on his album Emerald Aether. I don’t have that one, or I would be sharing it here is well.