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Sarah-Jane Summers - Solo (Dell Daisy Records)

Star rating: 
4

Sarah-Jane Summers has produced a pair of acclaimed albums with Finnish guitarist Juhani Silvola, earning accolades from Songlines Magazine. Her improvised solo Album VIRR was awarded 'Album of the Year' on Late Junction, Radio 3's night time home of the left field, exciting and unique. Following on from these on SOLO Sarah returns to her home tradition, producing what may be the first album of solo Scottish fiddle playing. As such it is a deeply personal statement. In Free Play, Improvisation In Life and Art, Stephen Nachmanovitch says  "The violin is a ruthless seismograph of the heart… Each tremor and movement reflects the musician’s minutest unconscious impulse. There is nothing hidden." Add to that the fact that solo performances place the focus firmly on the performer, with nowhere to hide and a palpable sense of tension builds. This is music without a safety net and without the grounding tapping foot, percussion or band to provide the map we expect from folk music . It's as if we are watching the highest possible diver, slowed down, like a Bill Viola film. Your heart is in your mouth and you marvel at the bravery, the grace, the skill and the beauty of the moving figure. All of these things are here, the grace and the beauty of the playing and the considerable skill. These things both make you smile and just take your breath clear away. Tracks like the pulsing Are You Always Pleased provide a strong rhythm, tied up in the tune. Reminding us of the physicality of Folk Music as it implores us to dance and to move. Then there are Oran An Aoig-The Song Of Death and the laments for King George V and Alexander Grant. Here the tunes are fragile and delicate, notes drawn out as if skeins of mist. Like musical Jenga, if anymore was taken away it would all collapse. There is power and beauty in the pulse and a power in the fragile. On Cumha Mhic a h-Arisaig the notes start to run together and collide and you imagine you can hear more than one instrument. After a while through SOLO it is hard to imagine how other instruments could fit round this or join in. Sarah's formidable power of expression on the Violin and her musicality says everything that needs to be said, everything that can to be said. Both in terms of virtuosity and in terms of the emotions portrayed this is a stunning album. 

Marc Higgins
Northern Sky