harps, saxophones, bagpipes: Scotland’s Unusual Suspects

Part big band, part jazz combo, part folk, part orchestra: The Unusual Suspects are just that: unusual. They make music with harp, piano, saxophone, trumpet, bagpipes, uillean pipes, percussion, accordion, and loads and loads of fiddles. It is a music which connects traditional Scottish music with cutting edge jazz to forge a musical path that’s equally engaging to to listeners of both styles.

There are sure hands at the helm of this, as well as an often changing cast of Scotland’s best musicians in the ranks playing the music. Corrina Hewat and Dave Milligan have backgrounds in both jazz and traditional music — he plays piano, she plays the harp and sings — and about a dozen years back they had an idea for a larger canvass for folk music, a folk orchestra, if you will. Though working with a band of more than twenty people who live all over Scotland and each of whom has other career musical commitments hasn’t proved the easiest road, yet it has been one everybody involved has wanted to make happen, in good part because the music is so exciting, and because they love playing together and challenging themselves with it.

The Unusual Suspects have released their second album, which is called Big Like This. On it you’ll find an impassioned version of Both Sides the Tweed, a song with roots in Scotland’s politics which has been reworked and adapted over the centuries and really doesn’t require any knowledge of Scotland or politics to be completly drawn into. There is The Lorient Suite, an expanded jazz folk melding that Hewatt and Milligan composed when the band was invited to play at the Lorient Celtique Festival in France, and there’s the Scottish traditional song Fine Floo’ers, which stays true to tradition while being done in a way you’ve likely not heard it before. There’s a fine instrumental set that sets a tune from adventurous Scottish piper Gordon Duncan with piece from Cape Breton composer John Morris Rankin which flows in to a traditional piece called St. Kilda’s Wedding, all to fine effect. There are more tunes from Hewatt and Milligan in the program, and they are not the only composers on the band as tunes from fiddlers Eilidh Shaw and Anna Massie nd piper Calum MacCrimmon are on the program as well.

Take a listen and a look — this is just over a minute long but gives a great taste of what the Unusal Suspects are like:

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