Alasdair Fraser
& Paul Machlis,
Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle, Vol. 1
(Culburnie, 2000)

Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle, Vol. 1 is the first in a series devoted to exploring the great treasury of Scottish fiddle music. Tunes from many of the great Scottish composers over the past few centuries have been included, and Alasdair Fraser and Paul Machlis deliver an impeccable performance. Those who appreciate flawless renditions of traditional favorites will doubtless be thrilled with this recording.

Scotland's Fraser (fiddle) teams with Californian Machlis (piano) to provide the instrumental basis for this album. Also appearing are guest musicians Natalie Haas (cello) and Todd Phillips (bass).

I find that the pairing of fiddle and piano does not tend to be very common in traditional music coming out of Scotland. This is opposed to the likes of Cape Breton music, where the pairing is rampant. In my opinion, this is a pure shame since the two instruments complement each other so well. This album is no exception, and Fraser and Machlis certainly know how to make the piano/fiddle combination work. Those who are accustomed to the Cape Breton style of fiddle and piano however, must be forewarned -- this is not the same. Missing (well, missing to my mind, anyways) is the toe-tapping syncopated beat that I have come to associate with piano accompaniment. Mind you, this is not to suggest any shortcoming in the music -- just a difference from what I had expected.

Both Fraser and Machlis excel in terms of the amount of expression they put into their playing. Although each tune is precisely and neatly played, the pair manage to add their own style to the tunes, adding grace notes and ornamentation while at the same time not fluctuating too greatly from the tune at hand. Fraser is masterful at changes in tempo, and volume and accentuation of notes, and Machlis easily changes mood along with him.

The slow airs on this album really shine, serving to draw attention to Fraser and Machlis's skill at expression. The set containing "Chapel Keithack" and "Belmont" features a lovely piano solo, breathtaking harmonies with the two instruments, as well as some well-placed fiddle harmonies. "The Auld Brig o' Don," "Earl Haig," "Rose-Acre" and "The Ancient Barons of Kilravock" are all beautifully executed, while Fraser and Machlis' versions of "The Rose-bud of Allenvale," "Mrs. Jamieson's Favorite" and "Neil Gow's Lament for the Death of his Second Wife" claimed places on my list of favourites.

In terms of the faster tunes on this recording, the expression and precision are once again outstanding. Although I personally like a more percussive sort of accompaniment, there is no doubt as to the talent of these two fine musicians. In the personal favourites department, the set containing "Mrs. McPherson of Gibton" and "The Novelty" is a lilting set with off-beat accents and a gentle percussive piano beat adding a little spice to these well-played tunes. Another favourite is a group of Shetland tunes composed of "Da Forfeit o' da Ship," "Da Grocer" and "Jack is Yet Alive." This is a faster-paced bunch of reels with the trademark Shetland oscillation and piano with a purpose -- to get the listener's feet tapping.

Fraser and Machlis are clearly a talented duo. Now, although I am admittedly a little biased here (I love the fast toe-tappers, and am lucky enough to have hear Fraser live with bouncing-off-your-seat Cape Breton piano accompaniment), and this album won't likely get too much play time in my car -- simply too tame for me -- don't let this dissuade you. It is an excellent collection of tunes with outstanding musicianship, and those who enjoy traditional Scottish tunes -- particularly airs -- played with heart will love this album.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]
Rambles: 6 July 2002

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