Scottish fiddler and composer David Grubb’s background is in the classical orchestral world but a natural enthusiasm for folk and traditional music saw him record and release a year’s worth of daily videos for his ambitious Fiddle Tune a Day project via YouTube. Now, he has combined his extensive experience and his love of both genres with jazz and blues to create High Rise, an expansive instrumental journey through the streets of a metropolis.
Our city awakens with Sleeping Giant, as its swaying, repetitive yawn-and-stretch introduction builds to a sudden burst of energetic fiddle that starts the new day like an invigorating shower. The roar of early morning commuter traffic breaks through before a gentle piano rendition of the main theme signals the start of the working day. The Coffee House is a fiddle-led observance of a coffee shop’s patrons’ personality traits: slide guitar, double bass, meandering piano and percussion give the piece a jazz feel but the dominant dancing fiddle melody keeps it rooted firmly in traditional territory.
The beautiful Glascade is heralded by shimmering electronics and solo piano, while a memorable guitar melody is traced by Hugh Sheehan’s accordion before flutes complete the image of light reflecting from myriad surfaces. The revelation of scaling the heady heights of New York’s Empire State Building to reach the Main Deck and its inspirational views is celebrated in The Climb/86th Floor Jig, followed by the choir-led Milestone, a feel-good representation of the city’s progress and achievement. In contrast, the melancholic, reflective Arc yearns for home away from the city, as a haunting clarinet sings around a violin refrain.
Bleecker Street/The Busker, the first of the two extensive pieces that close the collection conjures the vibrancy of the artisan Manhattan street that was recalled by Simon and Garfunkel on their debut album and where Café Wha? And CBGB’s once stood. Polyrhythmic footsteps are used to transition from the main theme to a band preparing to play outdoors before they erupt into the busking segment proper. The dominating fiddle tune is interrupted by a jazz and double bass interval that suggests a late night session, after which the stirring fiddle once more picks up the pace.
The album’s closing statement Skyline/Bliadhna is a dream-like summary of the preceding music, reviving into a fascinating coda some of the themes that have gone before. ‘Bliadhna’ is Gaelic for ‘year’ and here we experience the changing face of a city’s skyline over a 12-month period.
It is difficult to accept that David Grubb’s High Rise is his debut work. It is an album of wondrous beauty from start to finish, with pieces that combine jazz, blues and classical with Scottish roots music. There are compositions here that could be epic film or television themes; pieces that recall Mike Oldfield or the shorter works of 1970s Tangerine Dream, minus the synthesisers. This is a superb, confident soundtrack to a bustling city, as observed by a visitor.
Review by: Roy Spencer
High Rise is out now.