Froots Review

Some years ago the multiple award-winning Scottish harpist Ailie Robertson took part in the Arts Council’s Distil showcase for traditional music composers. This led to a Creative Scotland commission to write a suite of music for a traditional ensemble, and this CD is the result. Much of this music was actually written in a distillery during a week in Glenfiddich where she was struck by the resemblance between the crafts of whisky-making and music-making.

Traditional Spirits is a musical sound-scape inspired by whisky-making, and it combines traditional and classical styles with touches of jazz. Ailie’s harp is joined by fiddles, saxophone, whistle, bass, piano, guitar and percussion. Her harp technique creates a sound of extraordinary warmth and colour. Patsy Reid’s classically-trained fiddle is poised and soulful. Fraser Fifield adds his saxophone to delicately acoustic music with a skill and sensitivity worthy of Jan Garbarek.

The Favourite Dram, Islay Dawn and The Angels’ Share are slowly-unfolding, evocative compositions of great beauty, using traditional and jazz instruments with classical elegance, and a deep understanding that the pauses are as powerful as the notes in between. The Angel’s Share seamlessly blends its traditional, classical and jazz influences to create an exquisitely moving little masterpiece. A future career as a film score composer surely beckons.

There are jazzy, uptempo tracks here too, such as The Cooperage in which the percussive sound of hammers on iron and wood is emulated by the heavy rhythm of the drum kit, and the harp improvisation has a Spanish feel – alluding to the origin of the sherry barrels being hammered together to store the whisky. The saxophone brings a Balkan touch to Solera. The achingly joyous Brandy Wines is based on Quebecois dance rhythms, and – like sun breaking through rain – is both plaintive and uplifting at the same time.

Ailie’s debut album attracted rave reviews in 2008. This gorgeous follow-up deserves to do the same.

fRoots – July 2011.