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WILLIE HUNTER & VIOLET TULLOCH - "The Willie Hunter Sessions" Greentrax CDTRAX144

A friend of mine, an Englishman, and fine pianist, spent several very happy years on the island of Unst. It was from him that I first heard of the vitality of the traditional music of Shetland. Later I heard records of Shetland musicians and was considerably impressed. But, until this CD dropped through the letterbox, I hadn't consciously heard the playing of Willie Hunter.

This is a truly wonderful set of recordings made informally over several years by Billy Kay of Lerwick. Before Willie's premature death in 1994, he and Violet listened to the master tapes, and selected the tracks for this album. There's as much Scots as Shetland music on the CD: the J. Scott Skinner canon gets a workover - the spicato bowing on Madame Vanoni is almost worth buying the album for - and there are also nods in the direction of Dan R.MacDonald. Willie also plays some of his own tunes: a fine strathspey, Compliments to Dan R.MacDonald, his reel "The Cape Breton visit to Shetland" and the slow air "The Love o' da Isles". But for my money tracks like the coupling of the reels "Faroe Rum", "Aandowin at da Bow", and "Da Forefit o da Ship" show Willie Hunter's complete mastery of his own tradition.

I could continue to list tracks, but that's really an empty exercise I'd strongly suggest that you buy a copy of the album. When you do, sit down and marvel at the harmonic and rhythmic subtlety of the piano playing of Violet Tulloch. Accompanists (particularly pianists!) tend not to be fully appreciated, but here we have a complete musical partnership.

This is 'traditional chamber music' of the very highest order.

Chris Bartram

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This album was reviewed in Issue 26 of The Living Tradition magazine.