Cho Chuk - A fiddle CD from 2002 which I've recently discovered

A real blast from the past to end 2013. Cho Chuk is a 2002 release by fiddler Jenny Gardner which I hadn't heard before this year, and since I finally got a copy a few months ago I've been playing it over and over. So I thought I'd share this wee hidden gem with you. Nine of the ten tracks are Jenny's own compositions, with a few collaborators, and they clearly come out of the Edinburgh melting pot of traditional and contemporary music in the eighties and nineties. Jenny takes it that bit further, going beyond jazzed-up Celtic styles, embracing Asian and Latin music. This CD was ahead of its time in many ways: fiddlers such as Mark O'Connor and Emma Sweeney have had similar ideas since, but this exotic mix from 2002 is quite unusual.

Jenny's playing is augmented by cello and banjo, percussion and guitars, and wordless vocals. Jenny herself plays viola and bass as well as fiddle. Her tunes are inspired by everything from New Zealand birdsong to busking in Madrid. Probably the best known melody here is Lucy Bain, a fabulous slow air which Jenny recorded with Rock Salt & Nails in 1995. Other tracks are more upbeat, but none of this music is the usual jigs and reels. Bank Street is among the most identifiably Scottish, somewhere between a waltz and a retreat march. The title tune refers to Malaysian fatalism, suitably strange and hypnotic. The final Namaste is by banjoman Neil MacArthur - no relation to the popular road - and ends this album on a spiritual high, with ethereal fiddle and Indian percussion.

Cho Chuk reminds me of so many things: the progressive bluegrass of Casey Driessen, the high pure notes of the Swedish nyckelharpa, the music for the Hitchhiker's Guide radio series including the theme tune Journey of the Sorcerer by Bernie Leadon, and even the recent compositions of Duncan Chisholm or Adam Sutherland. It's hard to categorise this album, partly because there's so much in it. Maybe that's why there hasn't been a follow-up in over a decade. Jenny is still working as a fiddler in Edinburgh and elsewhere, and I hope she has another recording of this quality up her sleeve, but this one will keep me happy for a while.

You can contact Jenny at funfiddle2003@hotmail.co.uk for information on Cho Chuk, Edinburgh fiddle classes, and her other current projects. Cho Chuk is available online from www.musicscotland.com and elsewhere.

Alex Monaghan

JENNY GARDNER - Cho Chuk
Own Label
10 tracks, 44 minutes

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