By Pat Moran | From the November-December 2023 issue of Strings Magazine
In the liner notes for Traverse, Laura Risk’s first album in nearly 20 years, the Montreal-based composer, educator, and fiddler compares fiddle tunes to stories unspoken. So, it’s fitting that the lead-off track, “Stéphane Landry et les frères Pigeon,” kicks off with the crackling sound of a log fire merged with Nic Gareiss’ softly slip-sliding step dancing. With such environmental sounds suggesting a Québécois kitchen party, the stage is set for the wordless tales that unfold across ten tracks.
Pianist Rachel Aucoin and accordionist and flautist Nicholas Williams join Risk on this musical storybook, which combines love of traditional fiddle tunes with contemporary experimental song structures. The song cycle begins in a sprightly vein with “Elsa’s,” a medley of jigs Risk composed to honor her daughter. Here Risk’s fiddle pirouettes playfully around Williams’s whirligig accordion and Aucoin’s cascading piano.
Risk’s playing takes a traditional turn on “Jerry’s Waltz,” with her bow’s wood scraping strings to emulate classic percussive Scottish-style fiddling. In contrast, her bandmates turn contemporary on “Jane Risk,” a tribute to Laura’s mother. Aucoin’s thick architectural chords and Williams’ atmospheric accordion suggest a contemporary melancholy pop ballad before Risk picks up the pace of the luxurious, liturgical melody over Mathieu Jacques’ heroic trumpet.
The up-tempo traditional reel “Le Rimouski” makes a broken field-run through a thicket of key changes, where G major modulates to C and F and ends in G. Here Risk’s fiddle is coquettish and cocksure. Similarly, “Douglastown” conjoins three reels to conjure an image of late-night revelers returning from evening dances still looking for a party. With whirlwind bowing, Risk infuses a mid-tempo reel with increasing energy. Soon fiddle conjoins with coiling Celtic flute and careening piano. It’s the perfect conclusion to an album-long tale of memory, nostalgia, and community.