This is a contender for one of the most magical CD releases of late. Sarah-Jane Summers is an esteemed student of the fiddle tradition of the Shetland Highlands, long admired for her performances with bands such as Fribo and RANT, for her passion in teaching others, and also for love of the Norwegian tradition that led her to make her home in Oslo and study there.
Juhani Silvola is a Finnish guitarist and producer known not just for his sensitivity to traditional music but as a respected producer and performer on the contemporary music scene. He is also based in Norway.
Together they make music that is energetic, inspiring, invigorating, yet played with enormous sensitivity and intelligence; both are absolute masters of their instruments. They have a real gift for making the most delicate, haunting sounds, born of a complete understanding of each other, yet they also know how to make their instruments party. The background to the material on the album is mainly Summers’ Highland roots, but the pair have made the tunes totally their own, whether it’s a lament, a jig, a strathspey or the final waltz. A treasury of melody and magnificent music-making, beautifully produced.
Fiona Talkington, Songlines.
2. FiddleOn Magazine
Of rare quality and sensitivity, Sarah-Jane Summers˙ latest album is a testament to the oft-neglected maxim that “less is more”. After recent releases with Rant and Mala Fama (Summers/Silvola/Kvam), this is an apparently simple but beautifully-crafted duo with her husband, guitarist Juhani Silvola. The music is allowed to speak for itself; where there is exploration of the fiddle˙s tonal variation it˙s never at the expense of authentic expression of the music. There is a close relationship in evidence which is quite magically intuitive and telepathic at times. Complex and varied, there is also a subtle drive and energy emerging from the partnership which is always appropriate to the genre.
The tunes here are drawn largely from the Scottish tradition, mainly jigs, strathspeys and reels, some learned from the late great Donald Riddell, Sarah-Jane˙s teacher in her formative years in the north of Scotland. “The Castle in the Glen” has a ghostly, other-worldly quality exporing the further timbrel reaches of the fiddle in its improvised opening. Other tunes fairly dance along, right from the first, “Lassie An˙ Siller A˙s My Ain”, collected in the early 19th century by William Christie of Cuminestown. Also a great strathspey and reel pairing, “Am Piobaire Sith” (The Fairy Piper) and “The Drunken Landlady”, traditional Scottish and Irish respectively.
Self-penned tunes include a fine set of reels, “Outlaws Don˙t Dance Waltzes”, and Silvola˙s own “Portobello Smile”, a gentle Scandinavian-flavoured piece flowing seamlessly between the two players. There˙s also a nod to the klezmer tradition with “Itzikel” /as rediscovered by Kevin Burke), given some darkly haunting colour in this arrangement.
Truly beautiful music; a rare melding of traditional technique and inspired freshness of vision.
FiddleOn Magazine (Deborah Henderson) Issue 42 Autumn/Winter 2013
When Sarah-Jane Summers joined forces with Juhani Silvola and Morten Kvam to create ‘Mala Fama’ the result was entrancing. This time with their new self-titled album, Sarah-Jane and Juhani Silvola express the intimacy they’ve forged through a fiddle and guitar duo that sets a standard for others to follow, and together they’re heading to wholly exciting and delightful shores.
The music on this album ranges across the rich wealth of traditional tunes crafted by a duo unafraid to innovate and improvise adding to the potency of the original blend wtih their own individual styles. From the opener ‘Lassie An’ Siller An’ A’s My Ain’ with its sublime fluidity, through the moody tones of ‘Itzikel’ and the enigmatic exquisiteness of ‘Portobello Smile’ to the darkly haunting narrative of ‘Caisteal a’ Ghlinne’ there’s never moment when you’re not captivated.
Having followed Sarah-Jane’s musical voyage for some years, I have no reservations in repeating my opinion that this lady will stand with the great Scottish fiddlers. There’s a breathing essence and essential empathy between Sarah-Jane and her instruments that transcends the ordinary and lifts her playing to a visceral level where artist and instrument become one entity. Added to that is Juhani’s instinctive, elemental touch on the guitar strings and his innate ability to work across melodies with levels of innovation and expression envied by many.
With heritage and influence largely from Scotland and naturally a soupcon of Finland, Sarah-Jane on fiddle and Hardanger fiddle, with Juhani Silvola on acoustic guitar have together created a unique partnership. The result is music that touches you on a primal level – eye-wateringly beautiful, lovingly crafted and finely expressed.
4. The Herald
During the summer, The Herald garlanded a new female fiddle foursome called RANT with a Herald Angel after the group launched its debut disc at the Edinburgh Fringe – and it is an album certain to be on many a traditional music fan’s pick of the year list.
This new release from one quarter of that group, in partnership with her Norwegian guitarist husband, is a nice coda to that collection, and in fact includes the self-penned Ormiston Rant to cement the connection.
There is something very intimate about the disc, whether in Silvola’s lovely Portobello Smile or Pipe Major Donald MacLeod’s lovely elegiac The True Lover’s Lament, and Summers’ fine fiddling has found a lovely foil in Silvola’s highly versatile strumming and picking, which extends the usual role of the six-stringed instrument in trad music in all sorts of directions. Summers takes understandable pride in being one of the last pupils of the late Donald Riddell, who also taught Duncan Chisholm and Bruce MacGregor, and two tracks pay tribute to that relationship as well.
In fact the ten tracks are a lovely personal mix of history and geography – and there is even a seasonal tune entitled Christmas Carousing.
Keith Bruce, The Herald
5. R2 (Rock ‘n’ Reel)
I really enjoyed Sarah-Jane’s debut album, Nesta, but missed out on her follow-up trio album which featured guitarist Juhani Silvola. It’s easy to imagine what a Scottish/Norwegian fiddle and guitar duo might sound like, which only goes to prove that you should never prejudge.
Silvola isn’t the sort of guitarist who is content just to lay down chords under a soloist, and Summers is stepped in the music of Norway and the Hardanger fiddle. The opening track, ‘Lassie An’ Siller An’ A’s My Ain’, starts out quite conventionally and builds up to some dramatic fiddle-playing on two or three notes. This is a technique Sarah-Jane returns to at times when Juhani takes over the lead part, neatly reversing the expected relationship. ‘Itzikel’ is a wonderful doomy piece learned from Kevin Burke in which the two instruments interweave, with Juhani sometimes playing a bass part and sometimes a second melody line.
It’s tempting to analyse every track for there is so much variety, from the delicate beauty of ‘Portobello Smile’ to the exuberance of ‘Outlaws Don’t Dance Waltzes’, and that only takes us to the halfway point of an exceptionally good record.
Dai Jeffreys, R2
Als ich die Musiken hörte dachte ich an Irland, Schottland, Schweden, Norwegen und Finnland. Sarah aus Schottland spielt Geige und Hardanger Fiddle, Juhani aus Finnland spielt Gitarre. Sie machen zusammen wunderschöne Musik und kombinieren die nordischen Musiken zu einer grenzlosen Einhet. Ganz anders, als die Eintopfmusik, die sich oft Weltmusik nennt. Wer disse Musiken hört, wird begeistert sein. Die Musiken sind meist traditionelle scottische Weisen.
7. The Bright Young Folk
It could be argued instrumentals are the purest form of music, because they are not constrained by the logical tyranny of words. Their expression is purely that of the moods of sound, and sound alone.
This collection of instrumentals, Sarah-Jane Summers & Juhani Silvola, assumes you don’t need lyrics to enjoy music. It also assumes you like traditional folk music. If the listener likes both, they are in good company. If they do not, then perhaps this album will change their mind.
There are few curve balls here. This is an album of Celtic folk music standards, performed with the utmost respect, coupled with a few originals from both Summers and Silvola. The classics come equipped with all the highlights of the genre: beautiful strings, luscious guitar playing, and melodies galore.
Because it is only Sarah-Jane and Juhani actually playing, the musical variety and complexity is limited by the duo’s inherent constraints. This means no percussion, bass or other instruments. However, with the tools at their disposal, they create a varied soundscape, and without overdubs.
Some highlights include Itzikel, a tense, lush song with flickers of exotic gypsy sounds, and Caisteal a’ Ghlinne, where Sarah-Jane’s bow skids across the strings to create a stirring effect to an already powerful melody. There are no poor songs on this album, though the listener will have to choose which ones are their personal favourites.
This is great music to listen to with family and friends. It finds a sense of authenticity effortlessly in its production, and its music is much like the day to day: peaceful and reassuring. For those of you interested, you have an album that may become a perennial favourite.
Shane Kimberlin, Bright Young Folk
8. The Living Tradition
Sarah-Jane Summers, from the shores of Loch Ness, recently released a trio CD with guitarist Juhani Silvola and double-bassist Morten Kvam. Morten has fallen by the wayside – or maybe retreated into his wintry Nordic fastness – but Finlander Silvola is postponing his hibernation to accompany S-J on this meander through Scots and Scandinavian music. I remember about 15 years ago, when the Afro-Celts were waning and Riverdance was considered a passing fancy, being told that Scandinavian music was the next big thing. I don’t usually go for big things, which is maybe why I’m still doing this, but Scandinavia does have peculiarly beautiful fiddle music, and perhaps its time has finally come.
“Beautifully peculiar” might also be an accurate description, as some of the pieces here step outside the familiar sounds of Western music. Summers coaxes low harmonics out of her fiddle, giving an otherworldly quality to the Gaelic melodies Cha Bhi Mi M’Iasgair and Caisteal a’Ghlinne. Silvola is not to be outdone: his guitar lead on Portobello Smile is enchanting and he duets perfectly on the final Culloden Waltz. There is more familiar material on this recording too, from the Irish reel The Drunken Landlady to the Swedish Klezmer Itzikel popularised by Kevin Burke, as well as Scots reels Loch Leven Castle, Miss Wedderburn and others. Most of the material here is actually from Scotland, but the style is more Nordic. Take The True Lover’s Lament, from Donald MacLeod’s piping collection: Sarah-Jane’s light bowing and Juhani’s bell-like accompaniment turn this into a Swedish pastoral piece. There are a couple of straight-ahead sets of Scottish dance music, but mostly this album is quite different from most Caledonian fiddle CDs.
9. Fatea Magazine
This self titled album from Sarah-Jane Summers & Juhani Silvola, reflects a couple of tends that have been establishing themselves in recent years, namely the collaborative projects between Scottish and Scandinavian musicians, in this case Norway and an increase in the number of fiddle-guitar duos.
Sarah-Jane Summers & Juhani Silvola first played together in Mala Fama, a band that release on Norway’s NorCD label and in some ways, this album distils that essence further down to the raw spirit. Silvola is also a much sort after record producer back home and on this outing, I can see why.
Sparse is one of those code words that reviewers often use instead of bleak, but it can also be used instead of minimalist and to a degree, both parts can apply to this album, there are times when the silence is almost as noticeable as the note that descended you into to it and the note that pulled you out. This is an album where very little goes to waste, almost every chord and phrase has form and function.
That may make the album sound a little cold, almost a little inhospitable, but generally that is not the case, rather this is an album that allows you to feel the shapes and ideas. Whilst the ideas are almost abstract they come with structure rather than being right out there in a way free form jazz might be.
The two musicians interlock and interact with a sound that can only be described by its intimacy, something that may be a product of the duo being a couple, but there are points on the album where you feel you are listening to a connection that could best be described as foreplay with instruments such is the passion of the song, “Outlaws Don’t Dance Waltzes” being a prime example.
“Sarah-Jane Summers & Juhani Silvola” is an instrumental album, but such is the intuitive way the duo feel their way into the tunes, you find yourself forgetting that there aren’t any words and in all honesty, I’ll leave that as all the recommendation you should need to seek this one out.
Clarity and connection are features of what fiddle player Juhani Silvola and fiddle player Sarah-Jane Summers offer on their recording Sarah-Jane Summers & Juhani Silvola He’s from Finland, she’s from the Highlands of Scotland, they make their home now in Oslo, and there are bits of all that in the music they bring, which includes traditional tunes and original pieces. The graceful dialogue between their istrutments invites listeners in to the conversation and sends them away with a smile, a bit of laughter a quiet reflection. It is — as are all these albums, really — music which you should allow to play out as the musicians have sequenced it. Outstanding tracks, though, include Lassie An’ Siller An’ A’s My Ain, Portobello Smile, and the Outlaws Don’t Dance Waltzes set.
Kerry Dexter, Musicroad Blog
11. Album of the month in Belgium’s ‘Le Canard Folk’
Elle joue d’un violon au timbre chaud et du hardingfele, lui joue de la guitare. De la musique principalement écossaise enregistrée à Oslo, parue sur le label allemand Nordic Notes. Un beau mélange? Mais il est vrai que la Scandinavie, l’Irlande et l’Ecosse ont des points communs, séparés qu’ils sont par une étendue d’eau qui n’effraie pas les voyageurs motivés.
Et nous voici en voyage avec un violon très expressif et une guitare chaleureuse pour des reels, jigs, strathspeys, une valse et des airs lents de toute beauté.
Superbes instruments, superbe accompagnement par un guitariste sensible et inspiré, qui est aussi le compositeur de l’unique air scandinave de ce cd, un air paradoxalement appelé “Portobello Smile”.
Le mélange est indéniablement réussi, la magie émane de ces dix morceaux qui voguent en dehors du temps.
Det skotska höglandet är basen för den här skivan. Sarah-Jane Summers (fiol, hardingfela) och Juhani Silvola (gitarr), bägge baserade i Norge, varvar snabba låtar som svänger med vackra, eftertänksamma stycken. Sarah-Jane är en stark traditionsbärare, ett arv hon fått från tidigare skotska mästare. Samspelet med Juhanis gitarr känns självklart där fiolen ganska naturligt är i förgrunden. Två skickliga musiker gör traditionen rättvisa men ger sig också ut på egna äventyr.
Juhani är upphovsman till mycket vackra Portobello smile, slut ögonen och njut. Sarah-Jane svarar med sina egna kompositioner. Det blir, som så ofta i de här sammanhangen, flera låtar i en: The Ormiston rant/Outlaws don’t dance waltzes/Juhani’s reel. De två spåren är albumets höjdpunkter. De väldigt långsamma låtarna har jag svårare att ta till mig. Men duon är på ett självklart sätt mycket skickliga musiker. Eller får man säga brutalt skickliga?