Review by Muriel Johnstone
Hood, Wink & Swagger
Ron Wallace – recorder Steve Wyrick – fiddle Gary Thomas – piano
This double CD of 41 Step Dances is a long-awaited resource and step dancers around the world will be delighted by it. The making of this recording is a monumental achievement both in terms of the enormity of the task undertaken and the extremely musical performance of the music. It seems that the musicians are thoroughly enjoying themselves drawing us as dancers and listeners into the joy of the music and dance.
The music for step dances embraces many different rhythms and tempos and supplies us with a feast of beautiful melodies. The specialist nature of the dancing requires a thorough knowledge and understanding of the dance and in this band we have three step dancers, two of them teachers of great experience in this form of dance. It is hardly surprising then that the correct tempos, the changes from one rhythm to another, the slight hesitations and helpful variations of speed, so important for this kind of dancing, are all present.
I can only just imagine the staggering amount of thought,
work and preparation put into this project.
With only three instruments Ron, Steve and Gary provide an enormous variation of color and texture through imaginative use of the instrumentation, delicious harmonies, and vibrant rhythms. As I listened I found myself wondering “What will they do next?” The trio shows a real sense of ensemble and the playing in a number of the cuts has a wonderful feeling of performance.
As far as the recording is concerned the blend and balance are on the whole very good. The recorder cuts through to great effect but never seems to overshadow. In moments of providing harmony Ron finds the right level to allow the tune to be heard. I particularly enjoyed the degree of ‘presence’ given to the piano (no bias whatsoever!) and very much enjoyed Gary’s innovative interpretation.
“Dancers Dream” will be any dancer’s delight but will, I am sure, also become a favorite recording to listen to. Here are 98 minutes of totally joyous music. It would be impossible to pick out a favorite but here are some magic moments for you to look forward to.
Disc 1. Featuring the recorder makes the hornpipes Come Ashore Jolly Tar and The First of August (Tracks 8 and 12) very jaunty. In The First of August I particularly liked the second tune. Ron’s playing is very sure-fingered throughout the CD. In Track 19, Lassie’s Farewell danced to two pipe tunes, you can hear Ron translating his knowledge of the pipe idiom to the recorder. A Dancer’s Dream (Track 10) is a beautiful cut with excellent changes from tune to tune, especially into the ¾ march when the recorder ‘pushes’ its way in to take the melody. There is good rhythmic piano work here too. In Hielan’ Laddie (Track 14) again there are some interesting ideas on the piano and a real sense of performance. A Favourite of the Ladies (Track 11) includes a very interesting tune by Barbara McOwen. I think the band is having lots of fun with this! It is great to have a recording of an 8-step Lilt (Track 20) with a lovely selection of tunes. The dance starts with recorder, then piano slips in followed by fiddle – an example of some of the great effects created by the trio. Dancers may find it difficult to know when to start the dance here. There is a 4-bar intro but it is not altogether obvious.
Disc 2 provides plenty of lively music e.g. Mairi’s Wedding; lots of fun in the syncopated signature tune for Millennium II (Track 5); drama at the start of Mckenzie of Seaforth (Track 2) and the lovely Phil Cunningham waltz Miss Rowan Davies (Track 9), featuring Steve on fiddle. It is very difficult to select just a few.
Congratulations! Muriel Johnstone