The Chris Norman Ensemble,
The Flower of Port Williams
(Dorian, 2000)

The Flower of Port Williams, featuring flautist Chris Norman, is a fine collection of tunes. Touted as containing "traditional favorites from Maritime Canada and beyond," it certainly does not disappoint. The CD will appeal to a wide variety of listeners, as it contains a mix of tunes with both classical and Celtic roots, and frequent changes of tempo.

The ensemble consists of Chris Norman on wooden flutes and Scottish smallpipes, David Greenberg on fiddle, Andy Thurston on guitars, Jonathan Jensen and James Blachly on bass, and Brian Melick on percussion. For two tracks, the ensemble is joined by a string quartet, consisting of Greenberg and Michael Emery on violin, Stephani Winn on viola and Laurie Anderson Bishop on cello. All of these musicians are well-grounded in both classical music and folk traditions, which makes for a rather unique style.

Although I tend to prefer more upbeat tunes, there are a number of slower tracks on the album that I took a liking to. The musicians in the ensemble all have a very smooth and expressive manner, which makes for light and relaxing listening. "The Flower of Port Williams," written by Norman in lament for his mother, is a prime example of this style, as are "Aldivalloch" and "La Rose."

The first track on the album is a combination of marches and clogs, and includes the string quartet, which adds a pleasant background to the ensemble. The tone is light and upbeat -- a feature that can be found throughout the recording. The ensemble succeeds in adding a lively note to some older tunes which I wouldn't normally enjoy.

On track 5, Norman plays the Scottish smallpipes for a set of old Scottish tunes. I was unaware that he even played the pipes until hearing this album, but it was a pleasant surprise. He is quite adept and expressive as a piper. Track 6, including "The Gravenstein" and "Marlys Norman's Reel," are compositions of Norman's, and "The Gravenstein" had an interesting jazzy feel to it.

My favorite set includes the air "My Wife has Scolded Me" (a name I've always liked!), followed by a set of reels. Norman begins the set with a solo, and then is joined by the capable Greenberg on fiddle. The two provide tantalizing harmonies, and slowly work up into a stepdance-worthy frenzy.

Another aspect of The Flower of Port Williams with which I was really impressed was the liner notes. They were quite informative, including the origins of tunes, wee tidbits of information and personal stories. In my opinion, far too many artists ignore this aspect of an album which succeeds in involving the listener beyond simply a listening experience.

When I think of tunes from Maritime Canada, I previously didn't consider many of the tunes on this album. It was rather refreshing to be shown another perspective, especially by such capable musicians. With this recording, The Chris Norman Ensemble was able to take a good, varied repertoire of tunes and play them with expression and style.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]

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