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Review: Hanneke Cassel, For Reasons Unseen

This album was released in 2009, but great music has no expiration date. Be sure to check out the live video of Cassel’s group “Child’s Play” at the end of the review.

Hanneke Cassel
For Reasons Unseen
[Cassel Records (2009)]

Some of the most exciting contemporary instrumental music in the Celtic tradition now comes from a community of friends who came together in Boston over a decade ago and continue to work with and challenge each other. Fiddler, pianist, composer, and teacher Hanneke Cassel is a major force among them. For Reasons Unseen, her 2009 collection of mostly original tunes, starts from foundation of Scottish and Cape Breton dance tune styles and adds a hearty mix of classical, Appalachian and swing elements. The result is a soaring, inspired collection of fiddle-based acoustic string music.

The tradition invoked here is the quiet beauty of lowland Scotland’s classically-influenced country dance music as much as the foot-tapping reels and jigs of less formal settings. Whether leading a pulsing reel for two fiddles and cello like “Leila’s Birthday,” letting the notes fly in all directions on the “Dusky Meadow Set” or outlining a delicately melodic slow air like “The Crane Estate,” Cassel is a master of both sure-handed performance and wonderfully interactive string arrangements. The use of cello as a second lead or rhythm instrument on most tracks adds a particular depth and richness of the sound. Ensemble guests include fellow fiddlers Alasdair Fraser, Brittany Haas, and Lissa Schneckenburger, cellists Natalie Haas and Rushad Eggleston, the fiddle/piano duo The McCassons, guitarist Keith Murphy, and others. This is absolutely lovely, uplifting music. [www.hannekecassel.com]

—Tom Nelligan (Waltham, MA)

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