The guitar is a remarkable instrument. On the surface a simple device, but in the right pair of hands it can be far more versatile and enchanting than six strings should normally allow. Dylan Fowler has one such pair of hands.
Dylan is a tireless and remarkably accomplished composer, arranger, collaborator, music therapist and, of course, multi-instrumentalist. As a husband and wife team, Dylan and Gillian Stevens have an approach to music that puts communication between individuals, groups and environments at the forefront. Through their Taith record label they’ve opened the door to a wealth of musical journeys and collaborations, but Dylan has at last put his own name to an album – A Passionate Landscape, his first since Ffynnon Ofor (2003).
The album opens with a with a light eastern/moorish touch, instantly reminiscent of Radio Tarifa. In the joyful Three Snake Leaves guitars, oud, violins, bass and percussion combine in an enthralling energizer. Similar energy levels are much in evidence throughout the album and especially later on in Ysbryd (spirit) – where guest classical guitarist Giorgio Miorto invokes again that warm Andalusian sunshine. Traditional music, whatever its origins, clearly holds a fascination for Dylan, but the Welsh tradition itself plays an equally important role. Y Nofed Don (The Ninth Wave) merges those domestic and global influences in an arresting, contemporary retelling of a centuries-old Welsh legend.
It’s always grand to find a reworking of a Scottish tune. In Black Is The Colour Of My True Love’s Hair (ok, you wont find two people who can agree on its origins), Dylan uses solo guitar to give this universally popular song an unfamiliar disguise and reinvents the melody to make it his own.
Dawns Timo is also more of a ‘bare bones’ offering (with the addition of double bass and perhaps a smidgen of Dylan’s mandocello)- six and a half minutes of sheer delight and, at times, drama. There are deft touches that remind me of Pat Metheney, a recurring theme in the more Jazz influnced side of Dylan’s music; such as in the exquisitely gentle Cariad Hir (long Love). However, this approach never feels like the basis of a song – more like something that’s evolved naturally while arranging the piece. In Sufi Tales, for instance (composed by Bulgarian ethno-jazz supremo Nikolai Ivanov), Dylan brings oud, guitar and percussion together in a passionate arrangement that builds to a stirring climax.
As the album cover suggests, and Dylan’s notes extolling the noteworthy landscape photography of Steve Brockett, this album has been devised, to some extent, in celebration of the landscapes Dylan holds dear; and in that sense Inish Ni sails from the speakers like a dance through the hills. In contrast the gently melancholy Seren (Star) soothes, but offers far more than a twinkle.
The longest piece on the album is also the most individual, and perhaps more closely kindred to the music Dylan produces with Taith. In Tear, Timo Väänänen’s spine tingling kantele plays no small part; A gentle jazz quartet that teases unorthodox sounds from strings, percussion, piano and bass.
To produce A Passionate Landscape, Dylan Fowler has brought together a hugely talented and cross-cultural ensemble. Azzedine Jazzouli specialzes in Andalusian and Arabic percussion, has opened for Peter Gabriel and, with Tunisian Oud maestro Moufadhel Adhoum, provides much of the strong Arabic / Moorish flavour; his percussion is flawless and stirring. Australian double bass player Nathan Thomson builds on this foundation like a master craftsman, adding strength to the rhythms that drive this music.
As mentioned, Taith collaborator Timo Väänänen’s kantale graces the closing track, while string support comes in the form of Sovra Wilson-Dickson on violin and Gillian Stevens on tenor viol and cello.
Beneath the attention-grabbing surface of Dylan’s harp-like approach to guitar, there’s a highly complex mix of influences that span time, traditions and the globe. There are times where each and every note hangs in the air like an emphatic and individual affirmation of a deep love of music. Dylan is more ready to credit the worth of his influences and collaborators than his own skills, but without those exceptional skills, A Passionate Landscape wouldn’t be the wonderful and remarkable work that it is.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
A Passionate Landscape is released on Acoustic Music