Pianist and composer James Ross has released a studio version of Chasing The Sun – a seven-piece suite of music originally co-commissioned for live performance by the Blas Festival and Celtic Connections. The music evokes the daily and annual journey of the sun along the north coast of Scotland and features James on Piano, with the pervasive pipe and saxophone talents of Fraser Fifield and the peerless strings of Mr McFall’s Chamber.
After graduating from Glasgow’s Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in 1997, James studied for a Masters at Limerick University’s Irish World Music Centre, under the tutelage of its founding professor and groundbreaking pianist, Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin. This period clearly had a major and lasting influence on his style as both composer and musician that shines through in his music.
Beyond The Strath opens the album with two minutes of beautiful, mellow solo piano before cello takes over the main melody, leading to a sudden change of pace with the introduction of fiddles and bass. Throughout the album the mood is as contrasting and varied as its subject. The mid-section of Pulse is an irresistible tumble of melody and the ten minute epic, Pibroch, switches from a main theme delivered in seductive waves to gentle waltz to strident pipes.
Smoo Cave opens with a joyful cascade of piano, cello and sax, is full of life and even hints at Ragtime in places; while Ebb And Flow evokes more sedate movement to begin with before its main theme is cleverly entangled among the strings and reeds.
In the final two parts of the journey, Lament offers a more docile form of melancholy than the title suggests with a tender interplay of violin, cello and piano that could be a choreographer’s dream. The piano and low whistle combination in the closing Chasing The Sun provide the softest of the suite’s various voices. To the very last note the piece evokes images of the kind of sunset you would only find at this journey’s end and soothes in a way that only music can.
Chasing The Sun has clearly grown from a love of the region, its landscape and its history. Yet, while representing these in musical form James Ross has shied away from creating a sound that over-dramatises the elements that inspired it. There are no cliche-laden sequences depicting waves crashing on rocks or howling tempests and boiling seas. Just as the journey the sun makes from east to west is smooth and unhurried and yet constantly changing throughout the seasons, the interplay of Jazz, Classical and Folk stylings feels natural and un-forced. The result – a sound that fits under a great sky in a series of divergent yet complimentary voices.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Track: Smoo Cave