Songlines
Winter 2001

Alasdair Fraser and Paul Machlis
Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle, Volume One
Culburnie CUL118D (60 minutes)

An inspirational and influential figure either side of the Atlantic as a player and a teacher, one suspects California-based Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser has long had it in mind to record this album.

Though probably best known via his now-disbanded Celtic fusion six-piece, Skyedance, Fraser has never strayed far from his first and fondest musical love - the many-splendoured riches of his native Scottish fiddle tradition. In this first installment of a projected series exploring the length and breadth of that heritage, Fraser teams up once more with his longtime pianist pal Paul Machlis, to focus initially on the work of 18th-century fiddler-composers - from the period regarded as the instrument's "golden age" in Scotland - and their notable successors, up to early last century. These include such iconic folk maestros as Niel and Nathaniel Gow, William Marshall, Captain Simon Fraser and James Scott Skinner, along side lesser-known names, with a few "trad" credits also sprinkled through the album's 21 tracks. As its compositions thus suggests, this is no academic cataloguing exercise, but a celebratory connoisseur's choice - of reels, jigs, strathspeys, waltzes and slow airs - from a long, dynamic and still-living tradition.

Fraser, too, is certainly a connoisseur's choice of fiddler. His expressive and technical range, allied to an intense, minutely calibrated empathy with his material, is nothing short of breathtaking, tempering extravagant gusto with hair-trigger control, tremendous muscular drive and lift with featherlight delicacy of phrasing, lavishly unabashed emotionalism with filigree ornamentation. Though his is more of a back-seat role, Machlis displays comparable finesse, lending extra weight, breadth and play of colour to the music with a beautifully sure and imaginative touch.

Sue Wilson