Saturday, October 13, 2018

Scotland's Music: Sarah-Jane Summers: Solo

Image, emotion, connection, story: these elements are parts of what makes music, and what connects musician and listener. At times musicians use words. At other times sound of the instrument holds the stories and ideas.

So it is with the recording Solo, from Sara-Jane Summers. In it, Summers and her fiddles stand alone, and yet they are not alone, as they hold dear and convey a wealth of stories.

Often Summers shares her gifts of playing and composition in collaboration. The Nu Nordic band Fribo, the chamber folk ensemble RANT, the contemporary string quartet Quatuor Bozzini, the Celtic fusion Grit Orchestra, top Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis, are some of those with whom she has worked. There are also the albums Summers has made with her husband, Finnish guitarist Juhani Silvola, which have won wide acclaim.

For her album Solo, however, Summers wanted to create what the title suggests: just the woman and her fiddle. She recorded it in a church near her adopted home in Norway. Summers, who comes from the Highlands of Scotland, has long been drawn to and has studied music of the Nordic lands. Elements of that infuse her work. Her heart, though, is in the Highlands, and it is to that music she looked first when choosing what to include her solo project.

There are slow airs, and there's a snap of strathspey. There's a nod to the Nordic lands on one tune, and one original composition which stands well alongside material from the tradition. What comes clear is the sound of Scotland. Though it is not spoken, what comes clear is the cadence of Gaelic. In the faster paced tunes such as the set including three traditional strathspeys, one can hear the cadence of the dance, as well.

For the most part, the music Summers has chosen here tends toward the side of reflection. That's not to say it's quiet, always, though that's included. What stands out is, rather, the quiet intensity and the deep connection among musician, instrument, and the music she's chosen.

It is a recording well worth your time for repeated listening in order as Summers has set it out. If you've only time for a taster to begin, though, the opening track, Lath' a' suibhal Sleibhe Dhomh/ On a day as I traversed the mountain makes a fine place to start. Riddell's Lament for King George V, that set of strathspeys which begins with the tune Are You Always Pleased, and Morning Prayer, a tune written by Summers herself, combine to make a good introduction to the whole. You will want to listen to all of them, though, and to read the sleeve notes in which Summers gives a bit of history and context to each the tunes.

Some of the tunes Summers has chosen from her own research; some are ones she's known most of her life; in several she makes tribute to her teacher the late great Donald Riddell, and to his teacher, Alexander Grant of Battangorm/ Sandy Battan, who was a relative of Summers. "Donald was very excited to give the gift of the tradition back to my family and this circle has always meant the world to me," Summers says.

A gifted and creative tutor herself (she has. among other things made an instructional dvd focused on the strathspey), Summers keeps the giving of gifts going with that work, with her collaborative projects, and especially, with this recording, Solo.

You may also wish to see
Scotland's Music: Julie Fowlis: Alterum
website of Sarah-Jane Summers
Celtic Music and Nordic Music Meet: Fribo

Photograph of Sarah-Jane Summers by Johannes Selvaag.

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posted by Kerry Dexter at

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