Fraser Fifield Band and Nedyalko Nedyalkov Quartet

2 Mar 2008 in Music, Outer Hebrides

An Lanntair, Stornoway, 28 February 2008

Fraser Fifield Band

THE GRAND thing about this forum is the opportunity to add, change, revise or update what’s been said. So it’s great that Sue Wilson caught the Fraser Fifield Band’s collaboration with the Nedyalko Nedyalkov Quartet at Celtic Connections right at the start of February.

It could well be that the combined bands have responded to initial reactions because the An Lanntair performance was a sustained Ginsberg wail of weird joy and persistent melodies [with the wail of the storm winds thrown in – the bands were stuck on Lewis and had to cancel their Kinloss date scheduled for Friday. Let’s hope they made Inverness on Saturday – Ed.].

It was good that the visiting musicians were given space to let the audience home in on their sound before the Scottish team added other layers. But there was something very Gaelic in the resonance of a music which needed to build and build like waves becoming surf. Sympathetic strings from the gadulka resonated, while a sharper mandolin-like instrument, the tamboura, did the driving. A far-ranging wooden flute took off like a flock of larks and we were away.

Once these guys had the well-filled auditorium following, we were introduced to a new element. Stoimenka Nedyalkova looked calm on stage and bided her time till she let loose the strongest passion, her voice, another instrument, new to us. She would also have been strong singing unaccompanied, but the total jazz brought us the tone of a country of extremes.  I get the feeling the sun can be hot and the winters savage.

Only after that did some members of Fifield’s team walk on to let their instrument find its partner. The two percussionists held back but were always present until the moment when a more assertive rhythm sent its signal. The guitar man made a perfect fit with the tamboura and we had a more insistent rhythm. The flute came back in and only after that did Fifield’s own subtle flute, soprano sax or big set of pipes compound the sound. So this is a revised formula – probably a much better one than throwing all the troops on stage.

The programme then shifted between a Bulgarian emphasis, a Scottish jazz one, a vocal one, and these soaring moments when the whole thing had a big momentum.

Fifield’s own stage presence is modest. He could trust the music to say it all. This is a band which allows strong solos but always returns to the unified groundswell. I understand why the sound can be a bit lulling to some. I imagine in a large-scale venue, it might not be heard to advantage. But in the steeply-raked wee auditorium, in our downtown island metropolis, it was necessary and sufficient to the purpose of escaping a tough time of year.

Every tap and chord counted so it’s unfair to single out any player. But it’s got to be said, with all that subtlety about, Graeme Stephen’s funky jazz guitar was the engine. And before you start, no he’s not any relation – not even a second cousin.

Often it reminded me of Sean O’Rourke’s fine band The Keltz – a 3 piece which has Eastern and Irish elements in the jazz. Their recordings stand up to many revisits. I have a feeling  that the CD just produced from this Bulgarian-Scottish collaboration will also stand up to close scrutiny.

© Ian Stephen, 2008