Dick Lee: clarinets, sax, recorders.John Kenny: trombones, recorders, fujara
James Ross: piano
The ancient border ballad of Tam Lin has been retold by firesides and in halls, in verse and song for centuries. Set at Carterhaugh near Selkirk it is a tale of the supernatural and mortal love, abduction by fairies and protean transformation. For the 2010 Celtic Connections Festival three of Scotland’s most innovative musicians were commissioned to collaborate on a contemporary response to Tam Lin – the result is an hour long dramatic setting in six movements, combining the ancient poetry with music which fuses folk, jazz and classical styles. Tam Lin received its world première at Glasgow City Halls on January 26th, and was rewarded with a four star Scotsman review, worth quoting in full:
Published Date: 28 January 2010 By JIM GILCHRIST TAM LIN **
CITY HALLS, GLASGOW APPROPRIATE, surely, that a piece of music inspired by a ballad of supernatural shape-changing should be composed and performed by three habitually genre-defying musicians. A response to, rather than a setting of, the powerful ballad Tam Lin, this hour-long suite proved an unpredictable delight, featuring Dick Lee on clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax and whistle, John Kenny on trombones and recorders, and pianist James Ross.
The song has been widely adapted in both music and literature – perhaps most notably, as Kenny acknowledged, in Fairport Convention’s folk-rock version of four decades ago. This, however, was chamber-ish music, but reflecting the otherworldly atmosphere and narrative drive of the original, making spare use of occasionally recalcitrant electronic effects, and with Kenny introducing each section with a few lines from the ballad.
Opening with creepily lugubrious tones on bass clarinet, sonorous drones from the trombone, and a folk-like melody on piano, this rich-toned music ranged from wistfully lyrical passages to baleful rasps from muted trombone.
Memorable moments included Ross’s piano working up the pace with Kenny’s trombone blaring like a great hunting horn; elsewhere a shift into strathspey time, or Lee playing his clarinet into the piano body to trigger an atmospheric susurrus of vibrating piano strings.
Unusually among ballads, Tam Lin boasts a happy ending – apart, that is, from an enraged fairy queen, whose wrathful final declamation was reflected in eldritch noises, as the piece faded into tranquil woodland murmurings. Magic, as they say. The Performers:
Dick Lee’s musical career as performer and composer has encompassed classical, rock, jazz, traditional, and much that does not fit easily into any particular category, such as the present collaboration with James Ross and John Kenny, Tam Lin.
As performer Dick has played live and on recordings and broadcasts with many artists and groups including the Hebrides Ensemble, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Michael Marra Band, John Renbourn, Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra, Hamish Moore and Bag o’ Cats. Dick’s own groups include Chamber Jazz, winners of the BBC Radio 2 National Big Band Competition, and Swing 2010, the Edinburgh based Hot Club style swing quartet, of which he was a founder member in 1980.
As composer he has received commissions from ECAT, the Hebrides Ensemble, Rudolstadt Folk and Dance Festival, Edinburgh Folk Festival and the Lemon Tree Trust, among many others. The repertoire of the award winning Chamber Jazz consists only of Dick Lee compositions (apart from a jolly deconstruction of Sweet Georgia Brown in 7/8 time). In 2002 Dick received the prestigious Creative Scotland Award, which resulted in a 5 movement piece for orchestra and traditional instruments, Airts, and more recently his Dalriada, for the same instrumental forces, won the Scottish Centres of Excellence Composers’ Competition. More information and samples of Dick’s music can be found at www.dicklee.org.uk
James Ross As a pianist James has performed extensively throughout Britain, Ireland, America and Canada. He is earning a growing reputation as a composer of music that pushes the boundaries of Scottish traditional music. He has received commissions from the Celtic Connections Festival, Blas Festival, Feis Rois and the Caithness Orchestra. In 2007 James was composer-in-residence at the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music. His Chasing the Sun suite was premiered to critical acclaim at the 2008 Blas Festival and Celtic Connections 2009. He is currently working on a project in collaboration with Drake Music and Feis Rois.
James released his debut album, featuring his own arrangements of traditional tunes on the Greentrax label in 2006. His piece Chasing the Sun will be released on CD later this year with Mr. McFall’s Chamber and piper and saxophonist Fraser Fifield. He is in demand as a session musician and has recorded on several traditional music albums. His current performing projects are the new trio Tam Lin, collaboration with Dick Lee and John Kenny, the Michelle Burke Band and the James Graham Trio. James teaches traditional piano at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and in 2008, was nominated as Composer of the Year at the Traditional Music Awards.
John Kenny has performed and broadcast in over 50 nations. He is internationally acclaimed for his interpretation of contemporary music, but also works with jazz and early music, frequently presenting his own compositions. He is particularly active in collaborations with dance and theatre: in 1983 he began his long collaboration with TNT Theatre and playwright Paul Stebbings, performing, composing and directing the music for productions which continue to tour worldwide, including Cabaret Faust, Tempest Now, The Wizard of Jazz, Moby Dick, Moon Palace, The Taming of The Shrew, and Romeo & Juliet. His past commissions have included the London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, the International Trombone Association, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Edinburgh Contemporary Arts Trust, Chamber Group of Scotland, Dance Umbrella, St. Magnus Festival, BBC Proms in The Park, American Drama Group Europe, The New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas (USA) and the Festival d’ Angers, France, Vokal Nord (Norway), CCMIX Institut (France).
John Kenny is a professor at both the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Since the early 1990’s he has also become increasingly involved with musical archaeology, and in 1993 he became the first person for 2000 years to play the great Celtic war horn known as the carnyx, and now lectures and performs on the instrument internationally, in the concert hall, and on radio, television, and film. In March 2003 he performed his composition “The Voice of The Carnyx” to an audience of 65,000 in the Stade De France, Paris. In 2009 he undertook a month long lecture recital tour of the USA which included the world premier of his composition “Wild Stone” for alto flute and carnyx, and released his seventh solo album, “Embracing the Unknown” for trombone with harp & string quartet. To find out more about John’s work visit: www.carnyxscotland.co.uk