Fraser Fifield,
Honest Water
(Tanar, 2004)

The first thing that strikes me as I listen is the sheer skill of multi-instrumentalist/composer Fraser Fifield, an Edinburgh musician whose name is associated with Salsa Celtica, Old Blind Dogs, Chris Stout Band and many other projects. Fifield composed all the tunes on this fine album (and how beautifully lyrical they are!) and plays an amazing range of instruments: low whistle, soprano/alto sax, small pipes, border pipes, highland pipes, keyboards, acoustic guitar, clarinet and percussion.

Graeme Stephen provides electric guitar accompaniment on three tracks, and Malcolm Stitt plays acoustic guitar on just one. Fifield's jazz leanings are evident throughout. He recorded the whole album in his home studio and clearly made excellent use of recording technology in doing so.

Some of these compositions have real "wow" factor -- the tunes are fantastic and full of irresistible vibe -- and Fifield knows how to make great use of musical repetition. "Dark Reel" is a brilliant example -- there's an immediate impact on the listener with this luscious piece, all swirling pipes, whistles, sax and keyboard samples, tamed by hypnotic percussion arrangements. Whistles soar and swoop again on "Misnomer's," bolstered by low-key, jazzy sax; it reminds me more than a little of Michael McGoldrick's playing. "Lament" has a trancy feel, its pipe drone enveloped by excellent jazzy whistle/sax improvisation and nice percussive effects.

"Marjan's" has an exotic ambience; it's a wonderfully catchy, upbeat composition inspired by the tale of Marjan, a lion at Kabul Zoo that survived grenade injury. "Velvet Jig" is another gorgeous sax-led piece, with a lovely catchy tune -- it's well titled, for its velvety charms are guaranteed to smother the senses! Another sensational track, "Horo," makes you want to leap up and dance! The juxtaposed whistles and pipes are magnificent here. The title track, "Honest Water," features some inspired electric guitar from Graeme. This album combines the best of the Celtic and jazz traditions.

Well, if Fifield ever assembles a Celtic band to perform this material, I guess he'll have to find players up to his very high standards -- what a great musician! Watch out for his imminent Fraser Fifield Trio recording, Slow Stream, due for release towards the end of 2004 -- this one will feature Graeme Stephen on electric guitar, Stuart Ritchie on drums and percussion, and of course Fifield himself on low whistles, sax and loop sampler. And if you can't wait for that, check out Fifield's superb contribution on Chris Stout's superb First o' the Darkenin' (Greentrax Recordings) -- that combination of Stout's Shetland fiddle and Fifield's sax is nothing short of sensational.

- Rambles
written by Debbie Koritsas
published 27 November 2004

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