Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas
Universal Hall, Findhorn, 5 December 2012
OUTSIDE the temperature was biting at minus 3 but inside Findhorn’s Universal Hall it was a warm and convivial crowd to welcome respected duo Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas.
THE packed hall reflected the appeal of the duo and with a recently released new album, Highlander’s Farewell, and a promise to be back in Scotland for Celtic Connections in January, including a strings workshop, Scots born fiddler Alasdair and American cellist Natalie weren’t ones to disappoint.
The new album provided a number of traditional tunes for the Universal Hall gig, including the poignant and passionate title track which melds old with new through a medley of ‘Highlander’s Farewell to Ireland’, ‘O’er the water to Charlie’ and ‘Highlander’s Farewell’ mixing strathspey, reel and jig with some spicy Appalachian seasoning.
Duncan Chisholm’s ‘The Farley Bridge’, a sweeping and sweet melody, perfectly symbolised the vigorous relationship between past and present and highlighted the rich vitality of contemporary tunes. This fluidity marks the best of Fraser and Haas’s talents. As Alasdair stated, if Neil Gow had stayed with the old tunes he’d have little to play, and it is in this spirit of exploration and respect for the past which the duo celebrate.
Similarly the joyous and lively ‘The Referendum’, a new tune in honour of Alec Salmond’s attendance at Sabhal Mor Ostaig on the Isle of Skye, flawlessly captured the sense of questioning surrounding that significant issue. Fraser’s opinion on the matter was evidently on show when he suggested the piece should be played “optimistically”.
A few personal tunes mixed with some traditional favourites, inspired by friends and family, followed including ‘Glenfinnan Nights’ written on a drive through Glencoe which swiftly swayed into ‘Tibbie Fowler O’ The Glen’. New tune (only around 3 week’s old!) the ‘Connie Muir Suite’ blended reel, jog, waltz and strathspey in an atmospheric and charming tribute to a close friend. Howie Muir, Connie’s husband, also provided the inspiration for the rhythmic ‘Ouagadougou Boogie’ a feisty and funky invitation to dance.
A series of old tunes, reels and strathspeys concluded the gig including ‘The Pitnacree Ferryman’, ‘The Smiths a Gallant Fireman’ and ‘Crossing the Minch’ before the audience, all on their feet and a good number dancing away on the floor, accompanied the duo on ‘Kelburn Brewer’ as Alasdair and his fiddle bopped through the energetic crowd.
The always eloquent Alasdair proved an entertaining host and the joy between both musicians was palpable and infectious; Natalie’s smiles and Alasdair’s nifty footwork were testament to the delight and talent of two musicians simply enjoying playing music together. It was clear the duo were happy to be back in Findhorn; as Alasdair noted, as they drove through Spey country to the gig, every signpost suggested a fiddle tune.
The duet between instruments, combined with an abundant synthesis of funk, jazz, classical and trad rhythms was a heady but delightful mix. Articulate, skilled and engaging Fraser and Haas superbly demonstrated the beguiling connection between fiddle and cello and an enchanting evening was had by all. Once again Universal Hall should be praised for its fine acoustics and relaxed atmosphere, as Alasdair noted it’s a “grand place for a gathering” and I couldn’t agree more.
© Billy Rough, 2012