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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Aritist’s website: www.sarah-janesummers.com

‘Owerset’ – live at Celtic Connections:

Sarah-Jane Summers announces new album

Sarah-Jane Summers

Critically-acclaimed Scottish fiddler based in Norway releases border-crossing album Owerset.

Consisting of top folk and jazz musicians from the UK and Scandinavia, Owerset (Scots for translate) is a unique project borne out of a commission Sarah-Jane wrote for Celtic Connections 2018.

The album presents an exciting new compositional voice that combines Scottish and Nordic traditions with the playfulness of jazz and the sonic explorations of contemporary music. There’s something for everyone, from full-on ceilidh (‘Blether’), virtuosic electric guitar (‘Flit’) and rip-roaring trumpet (‘Fitakaleerie’), to evocative airs and open, ECM-esque soundscapes (‘Owerset’).

Owerset explores Scots and Gaelic words that originate from Old Norse. For example, even the word ‘kilt’ comes from Old Norse. Marriage, fairies, sea mist, crying, and even the staple of the hipster male, the beard, are some of the concepts covered, illustrating the linguistic reaches of the Vikings.

A virtuosic, free-thinking and impassioned performer, Sarah-Jane is a tradition bearer of the old Highland style of Scottish fiddling. She moved to Norway in 2010 and has a master’s degree in Norwegian folk music from the prestigious Norwegian Academy of Music. Also a highly respected improviser, her album of free improvisations (VIRR, 2017) was Album of the Year on BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction.

Artist’s website:  www.sarah-janesummers.com

The Sarah-Jane Summers Band – ‘Owerset’ live:

RANT – Reverie (Make Believe Records MBR6CD)

ReverieIf you’re going to make music with a band that consists of just fiddles and violas you have to pretty sure of your ground otherwise it’s going to get rather dull.

Sure, Bethany Reid, Jenna Reid, Sarah-Jane Summers and Lauren McColl stretch the point by importing vocalists for two tracks but they import the best – Julie Fowlis and Ewan McLennan. The opening track, ‘JT’s’, written by Bethany makes a bold statement with almost staccato fiddle phrases leading into a sweeter restatement and then a rocking melody. The mood changes immediately with a set of two traditional tunes, ‘Miss Drummond Of Perth’s Favourite Scotch Measure’ – another great old title – which is given an almost eerie opening and ‘Strathbogie’s Toast’ from Niel Gow’s collection. ‘Dad’s 60th’ is another tune by Bethany, a bright march with echoes of older pieces hidden within it.

The first of the songs is ‘Mary’s Dream’. The words are by the 18th century Galloway poet, John Lowe’ and the tune is traditional – a variant of ‘The Parting Glass’. McLennan’s warm voice is complemented by almost tender fiddle parts. Julie Fowlis sings the other song, ‘Thug Thu Chonnlach As An T-Sabhal’, a strathspey tune with a very different feel. Her vocal dexterity with the Gaelic language is always a delight.

There are two pieces from James Scott Skinner who is always good value, two by Lauren and a couple of covers and the final track is an Icelandic hymn, ‘Fyrir Mig, Jesú, þoldir þú’, brought to the band by Jenna and rearranged by Bethany with an ethereal feel that’s almost chilling, bringing the album to a lovely close.

Dai Jeffries

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


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Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: www.rantfiddles.com

The promotional video: