Fiddler Laura Risk and the two other members of this trio - Nicholas Williams on piano-accordion and flute, and pianist Rachel Aucoin - live in Québec, though none is originally from there. Risk is from California, the other two from other parts of Canada, but all are very experienced in Qúebécois music, indeed have received awards in relation to it and there are fine pieces from that tradition here. What particularly strikes me, though, is Risk’s command of, and influence from, Scottish material and styles of melody and playing, and in my mind this album stands alongside the fine pair I reviewed very recently of essentially Scottish music, by Scots fiddler Iain Fraser and New England pianist Neil Pearlman.
In the track titled “Retreat Marches” the first, The Montreal March, is by one of the best known and highly regarded living West Highland fiddlers, Aonghas Grant (father of much-missed Shooglenifty fiddler,the late Angus Grant), with whom Risk worked on a two-volume book of his repertoire. He wrote the tune for her, which says a lot about his regard for her work. Her fiddle and the melody side of Williams’s accordion duet with perfectly synchronised grace-noting and lift, before Aucoin’s piano joins them for the big surging swing of the second march, the traditional MacGregor of Ruaro, known as a lament but used militarily as a retreat march.
In Peggy I Must Love Thee, a stately air from an 18th-century collection of Scottish tunes, the fiddle and accordion blend so perfectly one would assume there are two fiddles. It forms the first part of the track “Peggy and the Doctor,” the second part of which is a Scots jig, Dr. Risk written by Williams, and preluded by him on piano, in honour of Risk’s McGill University musicology doctorate.
The flowing “Jerry’s Waltz,” a Risk original commemorating her father, featuring Williams on flute, has a Scottish feel, too. As does “Jane Risk,” a lyrical 4/4 memoriam to her mother that brings in a trumpet obbligato from guest Matthieu Jacques.
Indeed even in material from Québec tradition, such as “Stéphane Landry et les frères Pigeon,” one of the three tracks in which guest Nic Gareiss’s dancing provides percussion, there’s a strong Scottish accent, while the overall sound of the trio has something of the spring and lift of the Scottish-rooted Cape Breton style.
There’s the splendidly bouncy “Le Rimouski,” learned from famous Québec fiddler Jean Carignan’s younger brother Marcel, the warm “Hommage aux Maheux” from the repetoire of Philippe Bruneau, and the three dance tunes from Québec fiddlers that comprise “Douglastown,” the last of which, Charlie Drody’s, is akin to an Irish reel. (See a video below.)
Right through to the elegiac and again very Scottish closer “Another Voyage,” a Risk original in memory of a friend, every tune, be it lyrical or up-tempo, is melodically memorable, beautifully-played, heart-lifting music, full of intelligence, delicacy and detail.
Traverse is one of our selections for Music of the Month in June, 2023.
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