Friday, October 21, 2016

Katie McNally Trio: The Boston States

Across history, travelers and emigrants have carried fiddles with them. It’s one of the most portable and versatile of instruments. That is one of the reasons that people coming form Scotland to Atlantic Canada brought their fiddles and their music across the ocean. People from Nova Scotia and other parts of the Maritimes, heading south to New England in search for work, brought heir tunes and songs and dance steps and their fiddles along too.

It’s that legacy and connection across landscapes and communities in New England, Atlantic Canada, and Scotland that Katie McNally has chosen to honor in her album The Boston States. In Boston, McNally learned the fiddle with renown Scottish style fiddle player Hanneke Cassel, studied at Tufts University, and listened and played at sessions and dance halls where the musics of these landscapes met and mingled.

With her trio members Neil Pearlman on piano and Shanucey Ali on viola, McNally went to Cape Breton make the album, and enlisted top class Cape Breton fiddle player Wendy MacIsaac to produce the project.

The trio kicks things off with music from contemporary Cape Breton composers Dan R. MacDonald and John Morris Rankin. The tunes Colin McIntosh and Black Horse offer a lively introduction to McNally’s fiddle playing which proves to be at once strong and graceful,. The set also showcases the fine way Pearlman’s fast paced piano and Ali’s low notes on the viola combine with McNally’s lead to create a set that evokes fast flying dance steps while showing the musicianship is in good hands with all three members of the trio.

Each musician has varied strengths and musical backgrounds, which work well together across the ten tracks on the disc. Pearlman’s understanding of Cape Breton piano and the way that interacts with fiddle music is bone deep -- yet he also brings in subtle touches of his other interests and projects in Latin msuic and in jazz. Shauncey Ali studied classical music and moved into playing bluegrass. McNally, in addition to learning fiddle in Boston, studied ancient and modern Scottish Literature and Scottish traditional music at Glasgow University and The National Piping Centre in Glasgow.

The three musicians are thus well prepared to take on traditional music of Scotland -- although, as McNally points out in her notes, they often favor versions which came their way through the playing of Cape Breton musicians including Joe Cormier and Troy McGillivray. The trio’s gifts for bringing these ideas together are apparent in the set pairing the jig Scotty Fitzgerald from Cape Breton fiddler Sandy MacIntyre with the traditional tune The Hills of Glen Orchy.

Another good place to hear that at work is the track which joins Scottish composer Niel Gow’s strathspey The Fir Tree with a fast paced piece of McNally’s own composition, Batmoreel, which, does, yes, have a Batman connection which can learn of it the liner notes.

There are five more tunes by McNally herself on the album and one by Pearlman, which stand in good company with the tunes which they have chosen from the tradition. Many of the sets are lively music, but the trio does well with slower pieces also: listen out especially for the traditional tune Down the Burn Davie Lad.

Katie McNally’s family roots go back into Atlantic Canada and to Quebec, and her experiences encompass neighborhood dancehalls in Boston where Cape Breton and Scottish tunes ring out, as well as studying and teaching at fiddle camps across the United States, in Scotland, and elsewhere. As a player and as a composer she understands and respects how these strands come together. On The Boston States, McNally and musical partners Neil Pearlman and Shauncey Ali have created a collection of tunes that will set your feet dancing, and your spirit dancing as well.

You may also wish to see
Katie McNally: Flourish McNally’s debut album
Scotland's Music: Hanneke Cassel,The Paul McKenna Band, Alba's Edge
Hanneke Cassel: For Reasons Unseen
Sounds of Cape Breton: Wendy MacIsaac and Mary Jane Lamond
Katie McNally’s web site
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