Round about this time last year we were quite impressed by an album from a duo called Fiddle & Banjo. Their album, Tunes From The North, Songs From the South was an impressive sepia toned investigation into old time music by the duo of Karrnnel Sawitsky (fiddle) and Daniel Koulack (banjo) and when they came to Celtic Connections in January of 2016 we described them as “ghosts from the past,” their renditions of traditional tunes at times chilling.
The Fretless is another Sawitsky project, a string quartet which again has its roots in traditional music and then adds a more formal discipline to the tunes in the manner of a classical quartet. Sawitsky plays fiddle and viola as does Trent Freeman (who also appeared at the Celtic Connections gig) and Ivonne Hernandez while Eric Wright adds cello. It’s a measure of the band’s excellence that over the past four years they have swept the boards of various Canadian music awards named as ensemble of the year and best instrumental group while their two previous albums have won Best Instrumental Album of their respective years from the Western Canadian Music Awards. Bird’s Nest looks set to follow in that tradition as the band continue to straddle the folk and classical worlds, the debut performance of the album taking place in Cologne’s Philharmonic Orchestra Hall in October.
It may seem a daunting prospect, an instrumental album of fiddles, viola and cello. However for folk followers there is a seam of traditional lures throughout the album with a definite Celtic air lingering here and there. Most of the tunes are originals but there are traditional tunes also with The Kylebrack Rambler an energetic closer to Freeman’s Jig Of The Blue Moon while a flighty Maids Of Castlebar is conjoined with Sawitsky’s Le Reel de Samuel. There’s toe tapping aplenty and even some jigs so it’s not the sort of polite string quartet you’ll hear while browsing in a quaint old bookshop. Indeed there’s a sharply dynamic quality to the album, the thrust of the fiddlers combined quite thrilling at times while the woody timbre of the cello is perfectly captured. Wonderfully textured it’s warm and engaging and it should thrill the socks off of anyone who is even slightly interested in folk fiddle playing. A bold, brave and ultimately satisfying adventure.