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Shedd will ring with music of Scotland.

Byline: LEWIS TAYLOR The Register-Guard

SCOTTISH FIDDLER Alasdair Fraser sees music as a conversation. It's an analogy he returns to again and again.

"I think my favorite music-making occurs when you have an exchange in real time with a soul mate, when you have a shared goal, and you can be actually having a conversation in the music, in the heat and excitement of ideas going back and forth," Fraser said, speaking by phone from his Northern California home.

"One of the main ingredients of that is a lot of listening, going back and forth. A lot of musicians play well, but don't actually listen."

For the same reason that it's difficult to hold a nine-way conversation, Fraser prefers small groups to larger ensembles. On Sunday, as part of the Oregon Festival of American Music's Now Hear This series, he will team up with his longtime collaborator, pianist Paul Machlis.

Fraser says Machlis is a skilled communicator.

"One of the things that I love about this duo and playing with Paul is that he knows my idiosyncrasies and I know his. If I see him heading off in one direction, I'll say, `I'm going to head there with him.'

"We do have this common love for the duo that we're playing in together and, what also happens is, we have this common understanding of the material,"

Regarded as one of Scotland's finest fiddlers, Fraser formed his own record label, Culburnie, in 1986. He released several albus, including 1996's "Dawn Dance."

Machlis, a Berkeley, Calif., pianist who plays Scottish and Bulgarian music and stages contradances, is known for his wide-ranging and highly lyrical performances. His most recent release is "The Bright Field."

After meeting in the early 1980s, Fraser and Machlis began a musical conversation that has continued into the present and has covered a good deal of musical territory. As part of Fraser's supergroup Skyedance, Machlis helped bring contemporary Celtic music to the masses.

On the 1996 release "Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle: Volume One," the pair paid homage to traditional 18th century Scottish tunes. Through their many collaborations, Fraser and Machlis are credited with fueling the resurgence of interest in traditional Scottish fiddle music in the United States and Scotland.

"I like to think of Scottish music as being sort of harmonically involved, mature and also melodically intriguing,' Fraser says. "It's so full of potential and so rhythmically evolved."

When Fraser and Machlis perform here on Sunday, you can expect to hear both duets and solo performances. Although 18th century tunes from "Legacy" will be heavily featured, the music should be as wide-ranging as the crowd itself.

Not much for predetermined set lists, Fraser and Machlis prefer to follow the audience's lead, playing the songs that seem most appropriate at the time.

"We can go with the momentum," Fraser says. "If there's a certain mood that's feeling good, then that will happen. And, if we want to get wild, if there are a bunch of people dancing, we can go that way, too."

Raised in a musical household in the central Scottish highlands, Fraser feels a connection to traditional music from throughout his homeland. The first volume of "Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle" focuses on the Scandinavian-influenced songs of northeastern Scotland. However, Fraser has also explored the Gaelic music of western Scotland, the songs of the heartland and the music of Glasgow, Edinburgh and other more cosmopolitan cities.

And that's not to mention the traditional songs of neighboring countries such as England, Ireland, France, Italy and Spain.

"I feel very multilingual or multidialectical," Fraser says, speaking about music, not language. "I just relish the opportunity to develop voices in all these different dialects."

Fiddlers of the past primarily soaked up the musical dialects of the region they lived in. Fraser's mobility enables him to be well versed in a variety of traditional styles.

This cosmopolitanism, combined with his interest in original compositions and contemporary songs, makes him an extremely well-rounded player, a quality that both he and Machlis seem to have in common.

Fraser also enjoys communication between the artist and the audience. For that reason, it's not unusual for him to bring his listeners into the performance by offering an impromptu dance lesson, an amusing story or a brief music history lesson.

"I want everyone on board, that way we can have a much more exciting journey," Fraser says. "Only when an opening has occurred - an opening of the heart and head, and we're in the same place - only then can we begin to have an emotional exchange.

`And sometimes, that's what music is all about."


WHAT: Oregon Festival of American Music's Now Hear This series

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts, 285 E. Broadway

HOW MUCH: $10 to $17.50; half-price tickets available for high school students and younger; tickets through OFAM only; call 687-6526


Violinist Alasdair Fraser and pianist Paul Machlis will continue their musical conversation Sunday night at the Shedd.
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Title Annotation:Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:4EUUS
Date:Oct 11, 2002
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