Norman&Corrie, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 9th May 2024. Live review

Photo credit: the artists.
It was with high expectations that this writer attended Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre, where two highly versatile and it turns out, complementary Scottish musicians, saxophonist Norman Willmore and drummer Corrie Dick – both well known in various musical circles but probably especially in jazz – were playing in duo as part of Edinburgh Tradfest.
Saxophonist Willmore’s 2021 album ‘Alive & Well At The Muckle Roe Hall’ must be one of the most impressive albums of that year, while Dick, who has played with various bands (perhaps most notably Dinosaur) has been for some years a consistent source of drumming delights. With contrasting musical backgrounds, one would anticipate something special might ensue.
Funded by Creative Scotland, earlier this year the pair travelled up to Willmore’s birthplace, Shetland, where they worked with curators at the Shetland Museum and Archives, fiddler Maurice Henderson, and storyteller, comedian and folklorist Marjolein Robertson. The two gathered some old gems from this archive, subsequently developing them into something startlingly novel which they recorded for an album (due out later this year) only the day before tonight’s gig.
In fact, tonight’s tunes may have been a straight play through of the new album. However, there was nothing ‘straight’ about the lads’ representations. This was an hour of old songs, some so beautiful you could weep, being taken in unexpected directions.
In stockinged feet, Willmore controlled wooden organ pedals that brought electronics to the table, such that the duo sounded most of the time like a trio: sax, drums and electronics.
The electronic effects added a numinous quality, although the delays and echoes sometimes affected this listener’s ability to catch hold of the detail of the melodic lines. On the other hand, the electronic drones which evoked variously the bagpipes, an old church organ and even a doomy trance-like club atmosphere were wholly effective.
Throughout, Willmore demonstrated admirable speed and dexterity in the ‘stem’ of each tune, before heading off to freer territory, encompassing seagull-like skirls or raw jabs of support during the regular drum escalations.
Meanwhile Dick’s drums were as creative and propulsive as ever, briefly but regularly adding to a darkness that surfaced from time to time in most of the tunes.
Norman&Corrie’s music will likely engage those who have a love of or even a curiosity about Shetland’s musical heritage and who are happy to hear it serve as a springboard in the creation of some highly engaging and distinctly contemporary sounds. More please.

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