SARAH-JANE SUMMERS – Owerset (Eighth Nerve 8Nerve004)

OwersetI was in a melancholy mood when I sat down to listen to Owerset, not uncommon as I contemplate the growing futility of Man’s existence. The opening track, ‘Gall-Ghàidheil’, really didn’t help but fortunately I only had a blunt pair of scissors to hand. Sarah-Jane Summers is a Scottish fiddle player based in Norway, which goes a long way to explain her musical style, variously described as “traditional”, “classical” and “improvisational”. Owerset was commissioned for Celtic Connections 2018 and all the music was written by Summers. She eschews the hardingfele and some of the other esoteric instruments she employs for an ensemble with leanings towards jazz – Hayden Powell’s trumpet being a major part of the sound. There would seem to be more sounds than the listed instruments account for so I suspect a fair amount of digital manipulation has gone on.

The theme of the commission was words that have moved from Scandinavian languages to Scots and sometimes English. You can learn a great deal about etymology from the sleeve notes: Skegg means beard, Spey means to prophesy or a kind of elf and handfasting as a form of marriage was legal in Scotland until 1939. The opening track, which translates as ‘Norse-Gaels’ is a mini-suite about the settling of Hebridean islands by Vikings. Its mournful violin beginning, underpinned by Morten Kvam’s bowed double bass, gradually expands with the melody dominant moving into a brief cacophony of sound before the fiddle goes off in a new direction and the piece ends with a very short double bass figure.

‘Flit’ opens with electric guitar by one of Sarah-Jane’s regular musical accomplices, Juhani Silvola and he and the fiddle trade lead roles in a piece that sums up the concept of flight perfectly. ‘Fitakaleerie’, led initially by Leif Ottosson’s accordion is apparently the Norse equivalent of the hand jive although you also have hold an ale-cog while performing it. ‘Gate’ begins with the strangest sounds on the album.

The title track comes in two parts: the first in the style of a Swedish polska and the second in more orthodox Scottish style. This mixture of Norse and Scottish, ancient and modern, runs through the album which is exceptionally fine – possibly Sarah-Jane’s best work.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Owerset’ – live at Celtic Connections: