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ALASDAIR FRASER - "Dawn Dance" - Culburnie Records - CUL106D

Stating that Alasdair Fraser is a fiddle player is a bit like saying Pavarotti can sing. At a superficial level it's true but it tells you nothing of the sheer genius behind the playing. Mind you, by now, we shouldn't need told of Alasdair's ability with the fiddle - his previous recordings and live shows have all burdened him with the baggage of adulation. Not that he shows any sign of being weighed down by the level of expectation now heaped on him, indeed he seems to revel in it. Easy street for Alasdair would be recordings of tunes from the vast catalogue in existence all given the pristine technique that is his trademark. Alasdair ignores this route with his new CD "Dawn Dance" and takes the riskier road of self penned material.

Not that this road is particularly risky for Alasdair as previous recordings have had some of his own compositions on them and have been well received. This time he goes the whole hog with an album of completely new material of, as the blurb on the back says, "New music deeply rooted in the Scottish Tradition". Alasdair has crafted a cracker of an album which infectiously bounces along daring you to sit still while you listen.

The fiddle playing is, as you would expect, of the highest order, with Alasdair having a rarely heard clarity of playing without sacrificing the "feel" and enthusiasm so necessary to traditional music. Perhaps the area of gravest concern with albums of all new material are the tunes themselves, has the artist overstretched his ability? Not in this case. Alasdair proves a natural with tunes ranging from sweet slow airs, "Sally Mo Ghradh", through strathspeys such as "Pamela Rose Grant" to jazzy pieces like "Funky 105". Sometimes the "deeply rooted in the Scottish tradition" gets as stretched as bungee elastic but it never snaps completely (in the "Funky 105" set the jumper gets an awfully sore head though).

To spend this review focusing entirely on Alasdair would be criminal as the album really is an ensemble work. Alasdair's fiddle provides the focus but the supporting cast really make the whole thing come alive. Tim Gorman on piano spars with Alasdair on most of the tracks creating a tension that is usually found only in Cape Breton Music. Tim's piano playing undoubtedly lifts the feel of the album as does Chris Norman's flute as it weaves gently around the fiddle with delicate ease. Eric Rigler provides the sparks with both the Highland and Uillean pipes and is no slouch with either. Percussion from Peter Maund and Bass from Todd Philips mean that this is an album bands would be proud of.

Whether giving it "laldy" in flat out session, jauntily bobbing along in "Eilidh's Frolic" or softly playing an air such as "Sally Mo Gradh" the musicians on this album are perfectly arranged with each doing only what's necessary for the tune. The mix of instruments changes not only throughout the CD but also through the tracks which keeps the listener's attention focused. Alasdair has done a super job of the arrangements and kept each one of the thirteen tracks fresh.

So don't think of this as a "solo" fiddle CD is really more of a band effort, with all of the attendant diversity that usually allows. The chef is definately Alasdair, but the rest of the cooks help him serve up a souffle of an album to be savoured by us mere mortals.

This is going to be on my CD player a lot.

Chris MacKenzie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 12 of The Living Tradition magazine.