Monday, November 02, 2020

Three from Scotland: Music without words

Music has so many aspects: harmony, melody, all the instruments with their sounds, all the singers with their voices and how they convey the words.

There are times, as well, when music speaks most clearly when there are no words. It is not that words get in the way. It’s just a different conversation, or, if you will, another way of speaking about an idea.

Marie Fielding, Kevin Henderson, Neil Perlman, David Foley. and Jack Smedley have conversations in music to share that re well worth your listening.

Marie Fielding’s instruments are fiddle, five string fiddle, and hardanger fiddle. With them, she traces journeys to places which have inspired her. Mayo2Manchester honours both her Irish ancestors and her connection to flute player Michael McGoldrick as mentor and composer. The Connemara Reel Set comprises three original tunes evoking and honoring both Scotland and Ireland.

There’s the quiet of Gracie’s Lullaby, and the lively Muriel’s Oatcakes set. Most of the tunes are of Fielding’s own composition, and almost all of the tracks were recorded, as she writes in her sleeve note, “in the moment,” with just a few carefully noted touches added later on. The tunes are bookended by the title track Spectrum and Spectrum Outro, flowing tunes which are intended to highlight the circular flow of ideas in Fielding’s choices.

Immersed in traditional music from any early age, Fielding has a long understanding and a long time of thinking about the tradition to draw on in creating her own music,

A lecturer in Fiddle and Performance at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, Fielding has a confident and distinctive mastery of her medium. She is also a visual artist andsome of that sort of connection with the listener comes through in her music on The Spectrum Project as well.

Kevin Henderson, who comes from Shetland, and Neil Pearlman who is from New England by way of Atlantic Canada, know well how to explore landscapes through their instruments. In Henderson’s case that’s the fiddle. For Pearlman it’s keyboards and mandolin.

It’s a contrast and blending of styles and backgrounds that works. Their album is called Burden Lake. Henderson’s fiddle playing is precise, clear, and draws on his Shetland and Nordic background. Pearman’s inventive style, influenced perhaps by his Cape Breton fiddle piano duo history as well as his background studying and playing jazz, makes both subtle and generous compliment to the fiddle lines. Many of the pieces are of Henderson’s composition, and there are several from Pearlman and a traditional one. The duo handles both fast paced and quieter tunes with equal grace and interest. Listen out especially for Da Trowie Burn, the San Simon set, and Liam’s.

Also listen out for their other work. Each always has several projects on the go. among them the Nordic Fiddlers Bloc for Kevin Henderson and The Katie McNally Trio for Neil Pearlman. Both of these groups have new recordings upcoming.

David Foley and Jack Smedley have an ongoing group commitment: both are members to the award winning Scottish band RURA, founding members in fact. Foley, who plays flute, and Smedley, whose instrument is fiddle, enjoy the challenge that such collaboration presents, but they have also had the wish to play tunes in a more intimate way. They were invited to perform a duo gig at Celtic Connections in 2018.

The idea that has become their album Time to Fly was planted then, but their duo collabration has also been a long time growing. “With RURA we have been lucky enough to play big festival stage across the world and it is these experiences, alongside the travel opportunities that these performances allow, that have inspired a lot of the work on Tine to Fly,” David Foley says. “This album has been a great opportunity to get back to the fundamentals of our musicianship and explore the stripped back, acoustic sound we can created when it is just us and the instruments.”

Explore they do, with tunes both driving and lyrical. They well know how to do this, too. Jack Smedley comes from Cullen, where he grew up immersed in traditional fiddle music of the northeast of Scotland and of the Highlands. David Foley grew up in and around the Irish music scene in Glasgow. They met as students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland before stepping up to help found RURA.

These varied strands of background and present interests inform the eleven sets they have chosen for Time to Fly. The title track honours the fact that though Jack and David have been studying and then playing together for more than a dozen years now, first at RCS and then as members of RURA, this is their debut album as a duo.

Through eleven tracks Jack and David lead a journey which travels from a quiet tune coming from a story from history that took place on the shore near Cullen where Jack grew up to a lively set that begins with tune inspired during the recording of the album by a microphone, a piece of metal, and...a hacksaw.

The music Foley and Smedley offer along the way is intricate and engaging. Each track is complete on its own, while at the same time creating a progression that leaves you looking forward to what will come next. All of it is original music by one or the other of the duo, as well as one track Drift, which they wrote together. Their longtime connection with musical tradition and their enjoyment of making music together come across clearly through all of the tracks. Joining the duo on the journey are long time musical colleagues and friends John Lowrie on drums, James Lindsay on double bass, and Jenn Butterworth on guitar.

With or without words, music speaks clearly. Give a listen to these three recordings -- give more than one listening -- and you will find many engaging paths to follow.

You may also wish to see
Katie McNally Trio: The Boston States
Music from Ireland & Scotland: Sitting in on the Session
Homecoming: A Scottish Fanatasy from Nicola Benedetti
Hope as a companion: music for the journey at Wandering Educators -- a performance video from Time to Fly is part of this story
Sarah Jane Summers: Solo more music without words to explore

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


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