If you’d like to listen to a recording that encapsulates history and joy in equal portions and just makes you want to dance, Traverse, by Laura Risk, with friends Nicholas Williams and Rachel Aucoin, is absolutely the one.
Laura has an incredible sound that’s based in her complete command of her fiddle, and also based on the meticulous ethnographic and archival research she has done surrounding her fields of choice here – the traditional music of Scotland and of Québec. She is as meticulous a player as she is a music researcher, but with the addition of a soul full of passion and a drive for capturing the heart and community that is often hidden within the notes.
Originally from California, Laura now lives in Montreal, but also teaches at the University of Toronto, having received her PhD in Musicology from McGill University, for which she received McGill’s most prestigious award – the 2017 Governor General’s Gold Medal.
Laura’s work broadens our understanding of and appreciation for traditional music, amplifying the voices of the past, and critically questioning the notion of tradition. Musical archives in Québec owe her a debt of gratitude. One of her projects was the CD Douglastown: Music and Song from the Gaspé Coast, for which she was awarded the 2014 Prix Mnémo for documentation of Québec’s intangible cultural heritage. Laura spent months in the Gaspé region researching and collecting music from venerable musicians who are living repositories of the folk music traditions.
Dr. Risk leaves nothing to chance, but on this CD, she risks flaying her heart open and bleeding on the performance floor as she plays these time-travelling tunes. You might be tempted to reach for a hankie as you listen to these absolutely stellar melodies that reach out to us from years ago.
Laura has very able support here from two of her long-standing musical friends and collaborators: Nicholas Williams (flute and accordion) (Crowfoot, Genticorum); and Rachel Aucoin (piano) (Raz de Marée/Tidal Wave). Both are extremely accomplished musicians who always manage to play the perfect thing to enhance Laura’s fiddling.
Laura says of working with her musical partners: “…it’s what I would call in French a ‘coup de cœur’: something very special and unusual, a sense of musical connection and communication that, at its best, feels transcendent, as if we are walking an unknown path together, not quite knowing where we are going but following each other in the subtleties and intricacies of the tunes.”
This album is not simply a collection of great tunes. Laura thought very carefully about the ways that traditional music and fiddle tunes arc across generations. She says that tunes can suggest the presence of someone who isn’t actually there, and that all of the tunes on this recording have people and stories behind them. The repertoire was collected during Laura’s adventures as a fiddler and researcher. She built it slowly, over many years, during which she raised her own family but also cared for her aging parents. Laura spent a lot of time thinking and talking about death and the end of life with them, and listening to her mother reflecting on what made life worth living as her husband suffered through end-stage Alzheimer disease.
Throughout all of that intense life experience, this album took shape and the music began to reach out, and to soar. There are tunes collected from friends in Gaspé and Scotland, but also more modern tunes composed by other musicians for Laura, and tunes composed by Laura to celebrate the lives of friends, her father and her mother. All in all, it’s a fine collection that celebrates life, the living, those who came before us and the musical communities in which we find ourselves.
Fiddlers know the value of a tune in bringing us together. Listening to this work of meticulous research and creativity, we discover that music truly can traverse time and place and bring us joy through the ages. https://laurarisk.com/