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SIMON THOUMIRE & FERGUS MacKENZIE "Exhibit A" Iona Records IRCD031

There's nothing blaze about concertina player Simon Thoumire when it comes to musical collaborations of an eclectic kind. At 24, he's already shown an interest in fusing the traditional music of these islands with jazz, and so it was with keen anticipation that I (a fusion fan for longer than fusion music's been around) unwrapped this latest offering, a collaboration with percussionist and keyboard player Fergus MacKenzie.

Reader, I was disappointed. Though there is undoubted virtuosity aplenty on this disc, not only from the two principals but also from a stellar cast of guests, the project founders somewhere on a semantic misunderstanding. It's clear from the packaging and blurb that it's an attempt to merge two senses of the word "dance" - the traditional one, as understood by you and me (even with my two left feet); and the contemporary one, as commonly found in company with such exotic modern fauna as "hip-hop" and "ragga".

My informants from this modern monde assure me that the record fails to work in the second sense. Seemingly, devotees of what now passes for "dance" like their music repetitive, mechanical and devoid of melodic interest, and there is simply too much variation to be found here. However, in an attempt to pander to these predilections, MacKenzie has used a drum machine, and its effect is to kill stone dead the subtle swing that poor Thoumire is attempting to infuse into the proceedings (sometimes the percussion is "live" rather than programmed, but the effect is the same).

Now, it may be that, in Edinburgh, there is a modern "dance" scene which, unlike its counterparts elsewhere, craves for the sort of musical diversity that this duo and their friends create. I know not. I do know that most adherents of traditional dance would find this record uninspiring, if not impossible, to dance to, because of the percussive tyranny alluded to. Nor does it really work as a listening record, for the same reason. There are a few impressive passages from the point of view of the armchair listener (me), though they'd doubtless be not good to dance to: my favourite moments came in "Interaction", the intro to which seems like a blend of Egberto Gismonti's "Maracatu" and the "Grateful Dead", with a didgeridoo thrown in for good measure; and in "Totally Tropical", the centrepiece of which is a fine piece of fiddling by Eilidh Shaw. Thoumire plays throughout with consummate talent, both on concertina (on which instrument the reels and quasi-reels sound sadly lost behind the technotwiddle) and on whistle, where the monolithic influence Moving Hearts makes itself felt. And both MacKenzie and guest Clark Sorley come out with some fine brazilian-flavoured bop playing on keyboards. Ultimately, though, the attempt to reconcile two probably irreconcilable idioms robs this record of much of its swing. If you apply the "it-don't-mean-a-thing-if-it-ain't-got-that-swing" test to it (as I always try to), then it sure don't mean a great deal.

Christy MacHale

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This album was reviewed in Issue 13 of The Living Tradition magazine.