William Jackson is a harper and composer who's been a major force in Scottish music for many years, right from his days as a founder member of the landmark band Ossian, who were a key (and hugely influential) element in the revival of Scottish traditional music in the 1970s and 80s. William's always been tremendously inspired by the history and landscape of Scotland, although he's also been influenced by Irish music (his paternal grandparents hailing from Donegal, where he also spent much of his childhood). His compositions, which project his own personal and deeply responsive impressions of Scotland, are voiced in musical images that deliciously and accessibly (and without a trace of artifice) blend traditional folk forms and melodies with classical sounds of the "Celtic twilight" variety (think Bax, Moeran et al.), with perhaps a dash of Malcolm Arnold and latter-day Maxwell Davies along the way too. It's all very appealing and not at all rarefied or esoteric.
This wonderful four-disc compilation presents a very generous, and impeccably recorded, selection of William's compositions. The first disc delivers The Celtic Suites: these being the life-affirming Wellpark Suite, dating from 1985 and celebrating the City of Glasgow's centenary - this features "contemporary" instruments like electric guitar, keyboards, bass and drums alongside the traditional and classical musicians - and the 1990 commission St. Mungo, a four-movement suite inspired by figures on the coat of arms of the City taken from the life-story of its patron saint. The second disc presents the 1995 composition Inchcolm, whose ten linked pieces stem from William's own experiences across the land and encompass a depiction of the fearsome whirlpool at Corryvreckan, sojourns at Gardyne Castle, Vermont and Stirling's Abbey Craig, a chant (Salve Splendor) and a Gaelic prayer. The final movement is a continuous meditation-cum-improvisation taking its cue from words by the prophet Kahlil Gibran. Musicians augmenting William on the Inchcolm suite include John McCusker, John Martin, Wendy Weatherby, Tony McManus and Fred Morrison, with singers Mairi MacInnes and Mae McKenna also appearing.
The jewel in the crown of this collection might by many be judged the third disc. This kicks off with the magnificent suite A Scottish Island (1996), which features classical woodwind and string quartets playing alongside Highland, uilleann and Scottish smallpipes, fiddles, tin whistles, flute and clarsach, and includes some cameo vocal contributions too. Only in the suite's finale does the soundscape spill over into choral over-arrangement - elsewhere the scoring is a model of sensitivity in its ultra-evocative portrayal of a typical (though not specifically identified) Hebridean landscape. The disc's companion piece is the 1998 suite A Journey By Sea, which consists of a quartet of musical character-portraits of specific Hebridean islands William has visited: the spiritual contemplation of Iona, the frisky beauty of Gigha, the gently swaying seascape of Islay and a genial, animated ramble through the splendour of Jura. This is music as mature (and treasurably savourable) as the whiskies that are distilled on those very islands… Disc 4, Duan Albanach, contains the most recent compositions; an appetiser-sequence of shorter occasional pieces is followed by the main item in the programme, a live recording of the 2003 suite Duan Àlbanach, inspired by the ancient poem of that name which William set to music in the suite's second movement (the poem's theme being the past history of the land that came to be inhabited by the Scottish Gaels, the Àlbanach). Impressive, but ultimately perhaps a less coherent entity than its predecessors.
This collection is very nicely presented and packaged, but you will definitely also need to visit William's website in order to obtain the pdf giving detailed notes on the pieces (the full personnel credits can also be found here).
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