This week’s Spotify playlist is a mostly-fiddle-driven instrumental set. Although the orchestration is somewhat focused in this regard, the scope is quite diverse, both geographically—with tunes from America, Ireland, Scotland, and even Norway—and temporally, running the gamut from ancient traditional tunes to contemporary acoustic.
“N.M.I.” – We begin with an instrumental from Sean Watkins (of Nickel Creek fame). This jazzy tune starts with a theme on the violin that’s later picked up by the soprano sax. After that, Sean has a chance to jam, and then he lets everyone else have a turn.
Arcady “Paddy Ryan’s Dream, Fahy’s”, etc. – Nice mid-tempo set from an Irish group founded by De Dannan’s Bodhran player Johnny McDonagh.
“Trip to Sligo” set (Dervish) – A set of reels starting with with “Paddy Fahy’s” on fiddle and flute, then the other musicians join in for “Andrew Davies'”, and finally “Tomín O’Dea” adds accordion and bodhran. I’m impressed at how Dervish can use traditional instruments and traditional tunes and it still ends up sounding like rock and roll before the end.
“Flippen [The Flip]” (Punch Brothers) – Speaking of rocking out with traditional instruments! This is from P.B.’s new album. In general, the new album isn’t my favorite, as there are too many “songs” and not enough great instrumental tunes like this one. But there are a few, so I will take this opportunity to appreciate one of them. (They also do a great cover of Radiohead’s “Kid A”.) I nominate this tune for the Grammy for best bluegrass instrumental.*
“Wrong Foot Forward” (Flook) – Great piece from a great UK celtic band. Unfortunately, they’re no longer in business. This track comes from their last album, Haven, recorded in 2005
John Ole Morken, Norwegian fiddler, from his solo album. Norwegian fiddle technique is heavily influenced by the drones of the Hardanger fiddle, just as Scottish fiddle music is influenced by the drones of the Highland pipes. They came to a similar sound by drawing from two different sources of inspiration.
“Big Country” (Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall, and Béla Fleck) – This is a Béla Fleck composition also recorded by The Flecktones, but this acoustic version comes from Meyer’s album Uncommon Ritual. Any time you get Meyer and Fleck involved in something, you know it’s going to be a masterpiece.
“The Star of Munster” (Martin Hayes) – This is a short solo fiddle version Hayes recorded on his self-titled solo album. I also have a recording of Kevin Burke playing this tune.
“The Banks of Spey/Brenda Stubbert’s Reel” (Alasdair Fraser & Paul Machlis) – To Scotland!
“Montgomery Ball” (Aubrey Haynie) – Haynie is a young Nashville session player who has won several awards. (By young I mean he’s around my age…)
“The Leaning Tower” (Béla Fleck & the Flecktones) Celtic-inspired fusion tune. Warning: requires math skills! This comes off their ambitious 2003 3-disc concept album. It’s a pity the rest of the album isn’t like this. Apparently people found the concept tiring.
“Seg” (Nils Økland) – Økland is a Norwegian Hardanger fiddle player who is a major influence in Norwegian ethnomusicology. His music is a fusion of traditional, classical, improvisation, and contemporary composition. He recorded this album in an empty medieval church on the coast of Norway just across the North Sea from the Orkney Islands.
“Niel Gow’s Lament for His Brother” (Richard Greene) – Greene is a Grammy-award-winning American fiddle player and newgrass pioneer. On this album he tries his hand at celtic music. (I think the album should be re-released with a less pretentious cover and title. I think people can record celtic tunes without pointing out how hard they’re trying.) Greene’s take on this tune reminds me of a classically-trained violinist pulling the piece out as an encore in the recital hall, Fritz Kreisler style. But if you don’t read my Greengrass liner notes you probably won’t notice…
I’d like to hear from you. If you have some favorite tunes you’d like to see featured, drop them in my Spotify inbox and I’ll give them a listen.
* I know this track is a repeat from volume 3, but it’s just so good!