Fraser Fifield

Scotsman

Sunday Herald

Esotero

(Tanar)

In his liner note, Fraser Fifield revels in the freedom he and guitarist Graeme Stephen feel from not having to categorise their music. That's easy for him to say. For those who are unfamiliar with Fifield, he's a piper from the Aberdeenshire tradition who has also mastered the low whistle and soprano saxophone, in a way that allows his playing to flow from traditional-sounding airs into the realms of jazz and fairly free improvisation. In Graeme Stephen, he has the ideal partner and, over 16 years, they have forged an understanding that means wherever one goes the other will join him intuitively, be that into a moving lament or the kind of electric guitar and Border pipes ferment witnessed on Chase It Catch It that, if he were that sort of bloke, might see Fifield with his foot up on a monitor, posing like a heavy metal hero. At heart, Fifield is a melodist and his gifts as such are here in abundance - filed under adventure.

Rob Adams

HERALD

"Opening duo Fraser Fifield and Graeme Stephen's set travelled from the Celtic countries, with Fifield's super-fluent and expressive low whistle playing borne on Stephen's keenly inventive guitar rhythms, to suggestions of the cafes of Andalusia and gypsy weddings of eastern Europe and back via ruggedly riffing pipes and guitar, all the while retaining the spontaneity of the jazz ethos".

JazzEnzo (NL)

Vorig jaar kwam het album ‘Tabla rasa’ van Nordanians uit. Op die plaat laat de kersverse winnaar van de Boy Edgar Prijs 2013 Oene van Geel, samen met Niti Ranjan Biswas en Mark Tuinstra op respectievelijk altviool, tabla en gitaar een frisse mix horen van Indiase raga’s, Afrikaanse ritmes, funk en kamermuziek. Deze dag speelden deze Nordanians in Porgy en Bess in Terneuzen. En, ze namen een gast mee: de Brit Fraser Fifield.
De naam Nordanians heeft alles te maken met Amsterdam Noord. De heren wonen er bij elkaar in de buurt. Repeteren, jammen en ideeën uitwisselen wordt zo makkelijker. Maar ook het organiseren van bredere culturele uitspattingen. De muzikanten uit dit gezelschap houden van diverse muzikale stromingen en brengen ieder hun eigen achtergrond mee. Die belandt vervolgens in de stukken en speelwijze.

In Terneuzen trapte Nordanians af met het titelstuk van de cd. Meteen werd duidelijk uit wat voor grote hoeveelheid muzikale ingrediënten de groep kan putten. Biswas zorgde voor een ritmisch rijke ondergrond. Met vingers en handpalmen verweefde hij doorlopende maar afwisselende pulsen, donkere bastonen en accenten en bovendien melodische elementen. Een genot om naar te kijken en luisteren. Biswas schakelt snel van raga’s naar meer Westers klinkende ondersteuning, tot aan Braziliaans, hiphop en swingend meegaand met een walking bass.

Hiphop? Ja, funky elementen en beat te over bij Nordanians. Sterker nog, gedrieën mengen zehuman beatboxing in gezongen Indiase ritmes. En een walking bass? Ja hoor, want Oene van Geel leidt zijn altviool door een serie elektronische effecten en gebruikt soms een octaver om het geluid van een contrabas te benaderen. Ook hij demonstreert een veelvoud aan speelstijlen. Akkoorden aanslaand als speelt hij slaggitaar, pizzicato loopjes met Tuinman dubbelend of met snelle glijbewegingen klinkend als een sitar of anderzijds Oosters instrument.


En de stukken? Onzinnig om daar een genre aan te willen verbinden. Ze zijn vaak opgebouwd rond een bepaalde (ritmische) stijl die als uitgangspunt dient voor allerlei uitstapjes. Neem nu ‘Nasty Nordanians’, aangekondigd als een metalnummer. En, inderdaad, de overstuurde gitaar en de zware cadans zetten je op dat spoor. Maar langzaam sluipt een aantal ritmische vondsten onder de cadans en worden de thema’s steeds verder opgerekt.

Of ‘North brown’, ‘a small tribute from Amsterdam Noord to James Brown’, een erg funky nummer. Maar ineens is daar het stukje kamermuziek dat er wordt ingevlochten. De stukken zitten soms complex in elkaar, qua ritmiek, dichtheid en diversiteit in verhaallijnen. Maar de muzikanten laten zich geen beperkingen opleggen, zijn continu op verkenning en scheppen daar duidelijk veel lol in.

Funky loopjes
Tuinstra heeft een heel arsenaal aan funky loopjes en slagjes en zet makkelijk Afrikaans georiënteerde ritmiek neer. Maar met het kleine en ingetogen ‘Hal’s motor’ en in ‘Daraa’, beide van zijn hand, laat hij zijn melancholische kant horen. Via diverse omzwervingen wordt een fikse spanning opgebouwd en komt  men weer bij het thema.

Nordanians werkt graag met gastmuzikanten. In Porgy en Bess had de band gezelschap van Fraser Fifield. Van Geel ontmoette deze muzikant op Take Five Europe in Engeland. Op dat evenement speelden tien jazzmusici uit vijf Europese landen en ontmoetten belangrijke organisatoren en andere specialisten uit de Europese jazzscene elkaar. Het klikte meteen met de band.

Fifield speelde in Porgy en Bess doedelzak, low whistle en sopraansax. Hij zit evengoed in de jazz als in de Schotse traditionele muziek en weet dat op een heel speciale manier te combineren. Invloeden uit allerlei windstreken komen ook bij hem voorbij.

Van Fraser werd ‘Science of life’, ‘Psalm’ en ‘Old ways’ gebracht, dat net drie dagen oud was. De Schot speelde op de meeste stukken van de setlist mee. Veelal op low whistle, een enkele keer op doedelzak en saxofoon. Hij paste naadloos in het geheel, zowel qua geluid als spel. Over de drone van de doelzak speelde hij schelle thema’s en met de low whistle dubbelde hij vaak partijen met de anderen. En, op alle instrumenten die hij bij zich had interacteerde en improviseerde hij trefzeker mee.

Luisteren
Zoveel is duidelijk: dit zijn muzikanten die echt naar elkaar luisteren en sterk met elkaar in verbinding staan en een gezonde dosis spelplezier en humor toevoegen. En dat beklijft.

El Comercio (aviles)

El músico escocés Fraser Fifield abrió ayer el ciclo 'Esencias celtas' en la sala club del Niemeyer. Acompañado del guitarrista Graeme Stephen y con el aforo casi completo, el gaitero, flautista y saxofonista exhibió su dominio de la tradición folk de su país, mezclándola a placer con sonidos que igual remiten al jazz clásico como a puntuales experimentos escorados hacia lo vanguardista.

VARIOUS

 

A selection of reviews from album releases and live performances:

Jazzwise Review of Stereocanto - Dec 09.

"Fifield is an outstanding product of the Scottish jazz-folk scene who at one moment can blow a low whistle like Charlie Parker steaming his way through ‘Ko-Ko’ and at the next knock out an air on a sax like a Highland traditionalist. On this, his fourth album as leader, the in-demand multi-instrumentalist also shows himself a master programmer and beats adept." 

 

R2 (Rock and Reel) Magazine, Nov/Dec issue 2009

STEREOCANTO

 "an album that’s jazz, rock, a bit folk, a bit dance – and wholly amazing" ****  Wolfstone, Old Blind Dogs and Salsa Celtica: that’s quite a CV that Fraser Fifield has put together.His fourth solo album, Stereocanto, will allow him to tear it up and say, “You want to know what I can do? Listen to this.”

To his pipes, low whistle and soprano sax and kaval, Fraser has added synth programming.  He’s aquired the services of a guitarist (Graeme Stephen) and drummer (Alyn Cosker) who can rock but also play with great subtlety, and recorded an album that’s jazz, rock, a bit folk, a bit dance – and wholly amazing.  Strings from Vicky Fifield and Peter Tickell and bass from Mario Caribe add more shades and textures but at the heart of the record is Fraser having what sounds like the time of his life.  Even ‘Wrath and Love’, which borrows from a piobaireachd by Donald MacCrimmon, barely contains the energy beneath its mournful beauty.

It won’t be to everyone’s taste, of course, and, in fairness, the strange synthesised burblings that kick off most of the tracks are probably unnecessary and are quickly submerged when the organic music starts.  But if you would normally run screaming at the ‘jazz’ and ‘fusion’, relax and immerse yourself in the joy of music making that bursts out of this record.

Songlines Magazine, November 2009

Fraser Fifield: STEREOCANTO

'Detailed, sophisticated Scots-Balkan mix'.  ****

"This is not an easy CD, but one that demands close attention and detailed listening to bring out its inner beauty.  Not because it is unattractive, dissonant or off-putting – on the contrary, it has an almost sensuous beauty in its harmonies and gentle melodic motion – but its complex structure and thoughtful development only begins to reveal itself over repeated hearings.  Only through concentration on the details do the larger-scale aspects of its organisation begin to come clear.

In essence, Fifield’s assured performances on low whistle, Bulgarian kaval (end-blow flute) and various flavours of bagpipe and saxophone extend themselves above a choppy foundation from drummer Alyn Cosker and jazz guitarist Graeme Stephen, sometimes in a straight ahead common time, sometimes in a swaying seven or other Balkan influenced, time signature.  The texture is enhanced by subtly layered keyboards, which support short phrases repeated again and again with differing rhythmic emphases, as on ‘Snakes Well’ or the breathless ‘Angels’. ‘Wrath and Love’ is a meditation of great beauty on a simple five-note saxophone phrase, eveidently derived from one of the masterpieces of classical Scots bagpipe music, which twists slowly above still chords, stuttering drums, and visceral bass. It’s the interplay between intellectual construction, fleeting modal improvisations and sheer emotional sensuality of the music that makes this such a satisfying, and strikingly unified, piece of work".

Scotland On Sunday, 9th Nov 2008

Traces Of Thrace ****

"Scottish musician Fifield went east for inspiration for this fascinating album – arranged for his low whistles, soprano sax and bellows pipes with the kaval (the ancient Balkan end-blown shepherd's flute) of virtuosos Nedyalko Nedyalkov and Georgi Petrov on the fiddle-like Bulgarian gadulka, plus percussion and jazz guitar. Expressively played, full of subtle interplay between all the musicians, and alive with fluent rhythms and surprising harmony, this is a truly successful melding of traditions and innovation".

Songlines Magazine, Traces Of Thrace Review, Sept 2008

Scots meet Bulgarians and magic happens....... ****

"From the opening notes of this remarkable CD - a collaboration of musicians from the Western and Eastern extremes of Europe, the British Isles and Bulgaria - it is clear that an unusual and startling imagination is at work. Above an intricate, sweetly toned canonic ostinato, played on rural-sounding flutes, the sounds of the gadulka folk fiddle weave a melody reflecting the rhythms of speech. In the background,a guitar pensively wanders upwards and downwards, constantly revisiting the same few notes. The sound of the overlapping five-note scales begins to shimmer and dissolve, like the chiming of bells. There is a sudden halt, and the mood darkens, as the entire band hurl themselves into a unison melody over a dry and sinewy groove on drum kit. It's a haunting sound, serene yet vital, and quite unlike anything else you might have heard.

Fifield, the bandleader, plays the low whistle, highland pipes, and soprano saxophone, and he and his band are joined by Georgi Petrov on gadulka and Nedyalko Nedyalkov on the kaval, the liquid sounding rim-blown flute. The pentatonicism that pervades the entire album and draws it together allows the music to occupy an unmapped border country, drawing on but undefined by the Celtic and Bulgarian traditions of the musicians themselves - enriched and at the same time destabilised by intimations of the gamelan, Delta blues, Malian string bands, and the British pastoral jazz traditions of such performers as John Surman. Played by musicians at the top of their game, the compositions sound natural, and almost organic, but closer listening reveals that they are tightly organised and highly sophisticated. A magnificent achievement."

Scotsman Review, 27th June 2008

Traces Of Thrace

"SAXOPHONIST and piper Fraser Fifield has always taken an open-minded approach to his music, rooted in folk but strongly influenced by jazz improvisation. This compelling recording combines two of his regular collaborators, jazz guitarist Graeme Stephen and percussionist Guy Nicolson, with two Bulgarian musicians, Nedyalko Nedyalkov on kaval (a traditional wooden flute) and Georgi Petrov on gadulka (a string instrument). The contrasting timbre and sonority of the wind and string pairings is combined with an imaginative manipulation of instrumental colour and musical texture, all underpinned by Nicolson's supportive percussion. The results go beyond an exercise in cross-cultural referencing, and produce a genuine, fascinating meeting of musical minds."
ENNY MATHIESON

Sunday Herald, 26th June 2005

Fraser Fifield Trio: Slow Stream *****

"The steadily growing overlap beyween the Scottish folk and jazz scenes has been a rich source of invention in recent years, but even in this context, multi-instrumentalist Fraser Fifield has emerged as one of todays's outstanding talents. His mastery of the soprano saxophone, compositional gifts and fluency in both traditional and jazz idioms have prompted comparisons with Norwegian legend Jan Garbarek. Fifield, though, is also a brilliant exponent of the low whistle and the Scottish smallpipes. The pipes don't actually feature here, on his second recording - and the first with his now-regular trio, flanked by Stuaty Ritchie on drums and Graeme Stephen on electric guitar - but the feritle breadth of technique, traditions and material opened up by this instrumental toolkit resonate through both the writing and delivery. Most of the tracks are originals, alongside a few thouroughly reinterpreted traditional tunes, but in either vein, Fifield doesn't so much fuse different styles - including jazz, rock, Celtic, Scandinavian and Eastern European elements - as sublimate the need for such distinctions. He's found the ideal musical soulmates, too, in Ritchie and Stephen, whose intelligent sensitive responses to Fifield's dynamic lead round out an album full of excitement and lyricism."

The Scotsman, 13th May 2005

Fraser Fifield Trio: Slow Stream

"Fraser Fifield's folk-into-jazz trio with guitarist Graeme Stephen and drummer Stu Ritchie create one of the most distinctive sounds on the Scottish scene. Fifield's soprano saxophone and low whistles carry the melodic charge, but the overall impact is very much a group affair, and the inventive interaction between the three musicians lies at the heart of the music. Fifield supplies the bulk of the compositions, and is developing into a writer of genuine stature.

Fraser Fifield Trio - Slow Stream, album launch concert.

The Herald, 29th March 2005

"Fraser Fifield opined a couple of years ago that the music from his Honest Water CD couldn't be gigged, he obviously wasn't looking into a crystal ball.

Anyone arriving at Henry's in time to hear the album's title track at the end of the first set would have heard not just an implied "oh, yes it can" but clearly audible confirmation that Fifield has a trio that can take that music and move it on. The material from their just-released album, Slow Stream, which naturally featured more prominently here, confirms this. And it's the collective will that's important here. The melodies – with their basis in airs and dance tunes derived from or inspired by the Scottish, Breton, Swedish and Eastern European traditions – may emanate from Fifield's soprano saxophone and whistle, but each musician has an equal role to play, and does so splendidly.

Guitarist Graeme Stephen's canny moving between frontline melody instrument, groovy harmonic centring and bass string backbone positions, and drummer Stuart Ritchie's customary astute blend of sensitivity and effervescence allow a natural transition between composed melodies and freer, improvised passages.

This proved particularly effective on Fifield's soprano saxophone setting of the McCrimmon pibroch, Lament for the Children, which developed into a bleak but beautiful, emotional tone poem. More light-hearted tunes found Fifield giving full rein to his brilliantly articulate and intensely expressive low whistle playing. Perhaps most impressive of all, though, was the tightness they achieved on jigs and reels, proving that whistle, guitar and drums can make up a power trio to rival more conventional line-ups – not just for speed and precision but for genuine excitement, too."

The Herald, 29th March 2005

"Fraser Fifield opined a couple of years ago that the music from his Honest Water CD couldn't be gigged, he obviously wasn't looking into a crystal ball.

Anyone arriving at Henry's in time to hear the album's title track at the end of the first set would have heard not just an implied "oh, yes it can" but clearly audible confirmation that Fifield has a trio that can take that music and move it on. The material from their just-released album, Slow Stream, which naturally featured more prominently here, confirms this. And it's the collective will that's important here. The melodies – with their basis in airs and dance tunes derived from or inspired by the Scottish, Breton, Swedish and Eastern European traditions – may emanate from Fifield's soprano saxophone and whistle, but each musician has an equal role to play, and does so splendidly.

Guitarist Graeme Stephen's canny moving between frontline melody instrument, groovy harmonic centring and bass string backbone positions, and drummer Stuart Ritchie's customary astute blend of sensitivity and effervescence allow a natural transition between composed melodies and freer, improvised passages.

This proved particularly effective on Fifield's soprano saxophone setting of the McCrimmon pibroch, Lament for the Children, which developed into a bleak but beautiful, emotional tone poem. More light-hearted tunes found Fifield giving full rein to his brilliantly articulate and intensely expressive low whistle playing. Perhaps most impressive of all, though, was the tightness they achieved on jigs and reels, proving that whistle, guitar and drums can make up a power trio to rival more conventional line-ups – not just for speed and precision but for genuine excitement, too."