Fergus Hall – Shores
(Self-released. Album review by Fiona Mactaggart)
Fergus Hall is a musician, composer, improvisor and producer in the early stages of his career. He hails from the west of Scotland and is now based in Glasgow. His name appears in the album credits for this delightful, lush, self-composed and -released debut album Shores as ‘composer, director and producer’.
Taking the beautiful words of Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean, here sung in English by emerging trad star Cameron Nixon, Hall has created a suite of four songs plus two ‘Interludes’ that all together run to just under 39 minutes. The Press Release notes the romantic themes of “love and longing as well as the landscape, coastline and history of the Isle of Skye”. However, the feel is not only that of traditional Scottish music, but also of modern jazz and Western classical music.
To help bring these influences together, Hall has enlisted some of Scotland’s rising jazz luminaries who are well used to smoothly blending musical styles, in the form of tenor saxophonist Matt Carmichael, pianist Fergus McCreadie, bassist Mark Hendry and drummer Dominykas Snarskis. A sumptuous, classical quality is provided by a nine-strong string section.
Opener Girl of the Red Gold Hair finds Nixon’s warm tones and clear diction, which are well suited to Sorley MacLean’s beautiful words, bookending Snarskis’ shimmering drums, McCreadie’s trademark gentle yet insistent keys and some highly atmospheric massed strings. Increasing its momentum, the piano hands over to some exuberant jazz forms from Carmichael. It’s a rich and lovely sound, as too is next track Dawn which half-way through gives Hendry’s double bass space to shine.
Snarskis’ drums provide an atmospheric Interlude I, this being followed by album highlight, the maudlin But For You. Nixon’s voice is particularly beautiful on this one, and is matched in loveliness by Carmichael’s sax.
Interlude II is next, and has McCreadie beginning softly, but soon surging across the registers, backed by a supportive smur of strings.
Rounding off the album is the title track. More of Nixon’s lovely tones – though I did I wonder about intonation – some fast and crisp piano, more rampant sax and latterly some attractive snare work and modern rhythms. All of which rounds off the album fulsomely, confirming that this is an impressive and authentic-feeling debut that will likely have wide-ranging appeal, perhaps especially for fans of McCreadie, Carmichael – or indeed of that much-missed Celtic fusion pioneer Martyn Bennet.
Fiona Mactaggart lives in Edinburgh and writes about music on Scottishjazzspace.co.uk
Shores was self-released on Bandcamp and streaming services on 16 April 2021.