The Box and Fiddle
Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle, Volume One
Alasdair Fraser & Paul Machlis
As the title suggests, this is Alasdair returning to his roots. For the last few years Alasdair has been taking the "acid croft" Celtic music route, with recordings featuring rock beats, fiddle rifts and jazzy bass lines, which I do enjoy listening to but it's no good for dancing to!! So I was very excited when I heard he was doing a more traditional recording with Paul.
What a cracker it is too. Twenty-one tracks of the greatest tunes ever to have been composed throughout the centuries. He has included all the great composers, from the Gow family, Skinner, Marshall, Captain Simon Fraser, Mackintosh, Milne, to name but a few, through to the more up to date composers such as Tom Anderson and Bill Hardie.
What can you say about Alasdair's fiddle playing that has not been said before? This guy has everything. His music comes from his heart and soul and does not stop at the end of his fingers! He has the range of dynamics and contrast, in tone and colour in his playing that would make the world's best concert violinists weak at the knees, trying to emulate his sound. Someone once remarked that Alasdair could make a balsa wood fiddle, strung with cheese wire sound good! Meaning no matter what standard of instrument he plays we always know it is Alasdair playing.
Paul Machlis is a tremendous accompanist for Alasdair, as they have played together for so long, they know exactly how to be sympathetic to each other's playing. The twenty-one tracks are mostly fiddle and piano but there are a few with two guest musicians - Natalie Haas (cello) and Todd Phillips (bass), which brings a bit of variety throughout the recording and gives it a more authentic sound from days gone by.
The tunes are a mix of the classic reels, strathspeys, marches and slow airs, the likes of Chapel Keithack, The Beauty of the North, Jenny Hardie's Reel, and others too numerous to mention. If I have one criticism to make, I would say that he plays the last track, Niel Gow's Lament for the Death of his Second Wife, a little on the fast side and it takes away from the pathos of the tune but then I thought, there being s many tracks on the CD, he was running out of space and crammed as much in as he could!
What makes this recording even more special is that he is playing on a George Duncan fiddle. He was a Glasgow maker, most of his instruments being made in the latter part of the eighteen hundreds. Although Alasdair states in the sleeve notes the fiddle was made in Scotland, around 1894, this may get the historians coming out of the closet telling us that George Duncan left for America to start a new life in 1892, so was this fiddle made in America, or in Scotland? Maybe a good bit of banter for future issues of the Box and Fiddle?
No matter which side of the pond the fiddle was made, Alasdair brings out the best of the instrument, with a warm velvet sound on the low strings to a brilliant singing on the upper strings. This is a must-have recording for any youngsters learning the fiddle, fiddle music fans, or Alasdair Fraser groupies. Roll on Volume 2!