Ivonne Hernandez,
Playing with Fire
(self-produced, 2002)

Canada has produced so many young and talented fiddlers, it's sometimes hard to imagine anyone will appear with something new to offer. But Canada is always full of surprises, and Ivonne Hernandez is a pleasant one indeed.

Hailing from British Columbia, Ivonne got an early start on the instrument, demonstrating a degree of mastery by age 3 and placing in her first competition at age 5. Playing with Fire, her debut recording, is as fine an introduction as you can imagine.

There's certainly plenty of variety in her selection of tunes, as you might expect from someone with roots in both the Canadian Maritimes and Chile. Ivonne draws heavily on her Celtic, Canadian and Latin heritage, beginning with a highly polished interpretation of "Reel Beatrice" that matches any I've heard. The classical climax is an artful touch! "Home Sweet Home" is a lively medley of tunes from some musical friends in British Columbia. "USA" pairs Texas-style fiddle tunes "Tugboat" and "Don't Love Nobody" with the flair of a native. In "Coast to Coast," Ivonne exercises her East Coast muscles in a sextet of Cape Breton tunes. Her own composition, "No Good Notes," defies its name and indicates a fine future for her as a tune writer.

Composer Gord Stobbe has penned a few tunes to Ivonne's liking, and she gives him a great deal of credit with her arrangements of the lyrical "Farewell to the West" and her jazzy, Spanish-tinged "Culture Shock," adapted from Stobbe's "The Mad Bulgar." Jay Unger's "Wizard Walk" gets a jazzy interpretation and, considering her age when she started performing, Ivonne must have a long memory indeed -- she credits "Westphalia Waltz" as one of the first tunes she learned!

Only the final track, "Amazing Grace," falters; the fiddling is lovely, but Ivonne's vocals seem out of place on the otherwise all-instrumental recording. Perhaps if she stretches her vocal skills a bit more in the future, she can find better use for them on upcoming albums.

Besides fiddle and brief vocals, Ivonne provides stepdancing and percussion. Other musicians on the album are Adam Dobres (guitar, bass, percussion), Jessamy Zeeman (keyboard, percussion), Mike Alton (drum kit), Daniel Lapp (keyboard, tenor guitar) and Scott Henderson (a sparingly used tenor saxophone).

Playing with Fire is a dazzling debut from a fresh Canadian face. I'm already anticipating Ivonne's next release!

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 1 February 2003

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