SEONAID AITKEN ENSEMBLE – Chasing Sakura (own label SMA03)

Chasing SakuraThere is a story behind Chasing Sakura which I will do my best to summarise. Sakura (cherry blossom) is, in Japan, a symbol of spring and rebirth and is celebrated in hanami, experienced by Seonaid when she lived in Tokyo. Some years ago she suffered a serious riding accident and was unable to walk with her recovery coinciding with lockdown. Extraordinarily, she found a parallel between these two. The Seonaid Aitken Ensemble is an all-female sextet of musicians from folk and jazz backgrounds: Katrina Lee, Patsy Reid and Alice Allen complete the string quartet with Emma Smith on bass and Helena Kay on tenor saxophone and flute.

Is it possible to understand how a musician develops an inspiration into a completed composition? I doubt it. How would you represent the opening of buds, musically? Seonaid samples her own writing for the dizzy ‘Awakening’ , a sort of overture which leads seamlessly into the title track, which in turn develops into an exuberant melody and she discovers cherry blossom in Glasgow’s parks. Helena gets space to blow here.

‘Beauty & Wonder’ is a waltz with an old-fashioned feel that would fit with one of those old films that were the staple of Sunday afternoon television – at least they were when I was growing up. I can imagine the pictures that this music accompanied. ‘Hanami’ – the tradition of picnicking under the cherry trees in spring – is a wild celebration in 5/4 time leaving the listener breathless but Seonaid follows it with the haunting ‘Spring Song’: wordless vocals over pizzicato violin and a long solo on tenor sax. ‘The Walk’ refers to Seonaid’s recuperation and the unevenness of the tune is perhaps her private joke as she learned to walk again.

‘Sakura Snowstorm’ describes the blossom being blown from the trees, their work done and leads into ‘Impermanence’, a funky, almost syncopated, piece marking the end of spring. ‘Rebirth’ brings the year round again – a sombre composition which features Katrina’s violin and solos from Emma and Helena. Finally, a reprise of ‘Hanami’ returns us to the mood of celebration we enjoyed earlier.

Chasing Sakura is much more jazz than folk and, although that isn’t my favourite musical style, I can listen to it with enjoyment. If you’re looking to expand your musical horizons a little this is a good way to go.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website:

The Chasing Sakura documentary: