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BACHUE "A Certain Smile" Culburnie Records CUL114D

Bachue (pronounced Bash-ooey) are a duo comprised of Corrina Hewat on harp and vocals and David Milligan on piano and guitar. They've joined forces here with guest musicians including Phil Bancroft on sax and Brian Shiels on bass, plus Davy Cattanach adding some percussion and Horse McDonald filling in on vocal harmonies.

Touted as a fusion of folk and jazz, I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I started up the CD. One day some wag will fuse traditional music and be-bop, just to prove it can be done. The result in this case is a mellow, smooth, sexy blend, with a touch of Brubeck. Many of the arrangements feature traditional tunes that have been tastefully spiced up with jazzy chords and an extra dash of swing. In addition, there are some great pieces penned by Hewat, Milligan and others. My favourite is a Hewat composition called "The Phrayes". It's a lovely, wandering melody with a fluctuating modality, hinting at both traditional and jazz styles. They wisely stuck to a simple combination of tenor sax, harp and piano, letting the melody evolve and breathe without a lot of fussy artificial orchestration. The full, slightly dissonant chords sit surprisingly well on the Scottish harp, and the warm gravelly voice of the sax makes a delightful contrast to its ringing tone.

Hewat's vocals are cool and light, like something you might hear in a smokey, dark club in Greenwich Village. A fine example of this is her rendition of "If I Were a Blackbird". This version of the traditional Irish song opens with a syncopated riff on the acoustic bass, followed by a lush piano intro. Interpreted as a jazz waltz, the song flows along with well-placed pauses in the vocal lines for instrumental fills. You might think that combining harp and piano would be too much of a good thing. But David Milligan's gentle touch makes for moments where the blend is so fine that it's almost magical. This is especially apparent on track ten, a set of newly composed tunes they call "Plums". The harp, with its brighter sound often takes the melody, sweetly shadowed by the piano. Usually the mix is very well handled, though at times, I would have liked a bit more piano. Some folks prefer their music a bit more rough-edged than this, but even the most die-hard jigs-and- reels fan needs to relax now and again. This sultry recording is for those quiet moments when you want to unwind, not get wound up.

Elaine Bradtke

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This album was reviewed in Issue 33 of The Living Tradition magazine.