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Breaking With Tradition

Scottish fiddler blends flute and bagpipe with modern instrumentals.


Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser, whose band Skyedance performs Friday evening at the New Performing Arts Center at Cal State Northridge, has had his fill of folk music purists.

The music on Skyedance's new debut CD layers traditional fiddle, flute and bagpipe sounds over tracks of modern-sounding electric fretless bass, piano and poly-rhythmic percussion. But it's not the way they did it in the "good old days" in Edinburgh.

"I don't care about purists too much," Fraser said. "In Scotland for a time, we had too many judges, people who knew the 'right way.' "

So much so, Fraser contends, that the Scottish music scene was in a state of creative paralysis for many years.

"I'm into removing barriers and letting the music speak," he said, adding quickly, "with a Scottish accent."

Fraser is widely regarded as a master performer, recording artist and teacher of the traditional Scottish fiddle. He has performed concerts in Spain, Cyprus, Australia, Denmark, Canada, the United States and the U.K.

His playing may be heard on nearly 50 records, including soundtracks for "Titanic," "Last of the Mohicans," "Wyatt Earp" and "The Spitfire Grill," in addition to his own six albums.

"As I'm getting deeper and deeper into Scottish music, it gets more evolved into basic human emotion," Fraser said. "I love to play the melody lines but also play underneath the lines."

His 1996 CD, "Dawn Dance," won the Indie Award for best Celtic album of the year. The band Skyedance consists of many of the same players who performed on that CD. Skyedance's debut album, "Way Out to Hope Street," was released earlier this year and is also nominated for a Indie.

"The band is a collaboration with my favorite players from different genres," said Fraser.

The group includes Eric Rigler on Scottish and Irish bagpipes, Chris Norman on wooden flute, Paul Machlis on piano and keyboards, Mick Linden on fretless bass, and Peter Maund on percussion.

"They all have big ears," said Fraser. "They're not only great players, but they are good listeners. They're prepared to create in the ensemble where everyone's adjusting and listening and in the moment."

Fraser was classically trained on the violin, and originally performed in orchestras and chamber music ensembles.

"Fortunately, I had a father who played bagpipes and a grandfather who played fiddle," he said. "I learned to play by ear. I learned how to make the fiddle speak."

Skyedance performs at 8 p.m. Friday at CSUN's Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff St. (626) 791-0411. $24.50.


Also: Singer-songwriter Peter Himmelman will perform a solo concert Sunday evening at the Skirball Cultural Center. The Minneapolis-raised Himmelman has a critically acclaimed catalog of studio albums with bands, but his first solo album, "Stage Diving," was released in June.

Himmelman is known for his unpredictability in concert. He does not work with a set list, but tailors his show to the individual audience.

This concert is the third in the center's American Roots concert series. The final show is Dec. 5 with blues artist John Hammond.


Peter Himmelman performs at 8 p.m. Sunday at Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd. (213) 660-8587. $12-$18.

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