James Ross – Chasing the Sun
This seven-movement suite from Caithness composer/pianist James Ross, initially commissioned for the Blas festival, retells a journey along the north coast of Scotland via a bewildering array of genres; folk, classical and jazz among them. Ross’s entwinement of these, assisted by a group of musicians on soprano sax, bagpipes, whistle and strings, is remarkably assured: the opener Beyond the Strath, for instance, moves seamlessly from gentle, minor piano phrasings to contemporary jazz, via a string-led evocation of Celtic folk melodies.
That smoothness, for all of its virtuosity, does mean that Chasing the Sun lacks a strong sense of drama or focus: Ross’s irrepressible desire to shift between generic touchstones tends to prevent the pieces from forming a cohesive melodic identity. Given the mercurial meteorology of the landscape evoked, however, that restlessness feels appropriate; and while the suite could be more emotionally engaging, its amorphousness and diversity are nonetheless impressive.