BRACKENBURY & NEILSON – Crossings (Monoline MLRC1)

CrossingsCrossings is an album that falls into a category generally known as “music”. Faith Brackenbury and John Neilson have worked together for some time and bring together experience of classical music, folk, jazz and busking round Europe. This is their debut as a duo. Most of the material is self-composed except for ‘Fingal’, a pretty tune by Swedish fiddler Ellika Frisell.

The opening track, ‘New Invention’, could be a valid description of the record but it’s named after a small hamlet in Shropshire, which apparently consists of four houses and a crossroads. Quite why the place is so named or why Faith and John chose it to title a piece of music is anybody’s guess. Of course, many of the compositions are named after crossing points of one kind or another so it makes perfect sense.

The first long track, ‘The Plastic Bridge’, leans very much towards the jazz and improv which is Faith’s forte and she takes full advantage of the freedom to express herself over John’s piano patterns.

My favourite track is ‘The Devil’s Aeronaut’ – there’s a story there, too – for which John switches to accordion and there’s a bit of overdubbing going on. ‘Echo’s Bones’ is driven by John’s piano with Faith’s viola underscoring big chords before she switches to violin for the second half of the tune and John moves to the right hand end of the keyboard. ‘Enlli’ is named for Ynys Enlli – Bardsey Island for the English – and the piece perfectly evokes the treacherous waters that separate it from the Llŷn peninsula. It was once a holy place and pilgrims risked their lives to make the crossing.

The long closing piece is ‘Wladfa’, named after the Welsh colony in Patagonia – this is all true, you know – which represents the biggest crossing in the album and incorporates elements of Welsh traditional music and hints of a tango. At least, that’s what Faith and John say. It is a stunning way to finish an album.

I found Crossings very enjoyable listening. It’s not what you’d really call relaxing but it can conjure up some fascinating mental pictures and, like the weather over the Welsh border country where it was made, it’s always changing.

Dai Jeffries

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