Chris Norman,
(Dorian, 1998)

Portraits is a compilation album featuring flautist Chris Norman with a number of different groups with whom he has played. The tracks are a wide range of traditional music from Quebec, the United States, Scotland, Ireland, Cape Breton and Wales, and the first four tracks on the album are previously unreleased. This album succeeds in displaying Norman's versatility -- he is able to play in many different styles, and with an astounding array of instruments. Also, included in the liner notes is an interview with Chris Norman, which I found to be quite interesting, as it sheds light on some of the origins behind the different styles he plays, and his reasons for doing so.

The first four tracks on the album feature Ronn McFarlane on lute, Alasdair Fraser on fiddle and Mark Cudek playing the cittern along with Norman's flute. These four musicians have a wonderful way of wrapping melodies and harmonies around one another, providing the listener with a musical feast. This is particularly evident in tracks 3 and 4, which happen to be my personal favorites on the album. The style in these two sets of tunes is playful and expressive, filled with the accents and syncopated rhythms which so often accompany Chris's playing.

The next group of tracks are from The Beauty of the North and feature Norman with Alasdair Fraser on fiddle, Billy McComiskey on Accordion, Robin Bullock on guitar and Paul Wheaton on bass. Track 5 is a pleasant Quebecois waltz, and begins with the melody being played on both guitar and bass. It isn't often that one hears melodies played on the bass, but it makes a nice change. Tracks 6-8 are a set of traditional Quebecois reels, and feature the flute with McComiskey's accordion (different, but good). This is a lively set with good harmonies, articulate playing by Norman and a lively beat.

There are four tracks on the album which feature the Baltimore Consort. This group focuses on 16th- and 17th-century art and pop music, and their tunes have quite a medieval sound to them. Tracks 11-14 are a set of traditional tunes with Robin Bullock on guitar, Ann Marie Morgan on viola de gamba and Pete Sutherland on fiddle. Although Peter's fiddling style is quite different from Fraser's earlier in the album, he also complements Norman's flute well and provides good harmonies for this sprightly set. The same group of musicians also provide the final tracks of the album, a gentle Welsh tune, and the upbeat traditional American tune "Chinkapin Hunting."

The other tunes on the album come from a variety of sources. Norman, along with Helicon, plays a pair of waltzes, one of which is the unnamed "Waltz from Cape Breton" which I believe is actually "Leaving Lismore" -- a good tune, nonetheless. Camerata Bariloche joins Norman in "Slionar eubh' agus iolach," a Gaelic tune which would not be out of place on a relaxation tape or a soundtrack to a Highland movie. Norman goes solo for the lovely "Cape Breton Lullaby II"; he is joined by Custer LaRue's beautiful soprano in "Gartan Mother's Lullaby" and by Ronn McFarlane on lute for "Frais et gaillard."

For the number of tunes alone (23 tracks!) this CD is a good value. Not only that, but it is also a good mix of traditional tunes from all over the world. The common denominator is the flute, but Norman plays in so many different styles that the album is a wonderful sampler for someone wishing to be introduced to a variety of types of traditional music.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]

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