The Montville Project is a new recording of quintessential New England tunes, performed by four quintessential New England musicians: Art Bryan, George Fowler, Surya Mitchell, and Fred White. The project grew out of a workshop which the musicians presented at the 2007 Maine Fiddle Camp inMontville, Maine, called The Essential Dance Tune Repertoire. As explained in the liner notes, “Any musical tradition has a core repertoire which experienced players are expected to know.” Attendees of the aforementioned workshop encouraged the recording of the tunes – most of them have been recorded previously and in some cases frequently, but until now there has not been a definitive collection exclusively representing the classics. “Definitive” must be qualified: originally 200 tunes were identified as candidates, but practical considerations required editing the list down to 53. Most of the tunes are presented in sets of three or four, for a total of 22 tracks, making over an hour and seven minutes of music!
Whereas many contemporary recordings of contra dance music rely on unusual arrangements to take the tunes to new levels, what is presented here is absent much ornamentation. Again from the notes: “There is no right or wrong way to play these tunes, as long as you can dance to the music . . . our settings are not strictly traditional, but they lean that way.” In this regard this album does a great service: contra dance tunes are often now exploited using other musical motifs; the effect is often interesting and even worthwhile, but if you are going to play music for dancing, there is a certain foundation that should apply.
For musicians who are new to playing contra dance music, if you can learn these tunes with the style and phrasings with which they are rendered here, this will carry over to other tunes that you learn, and you will be a better player for it. This would not preclude the possibility of expanding into a style that reflected the influence of other genres – it would merely solidify the ground on which that is built.
These tunes tend to be simple. Perhaps the relative ease with which they can be played accounts for their popularity with musicians, but in the simplicity of these tunes there is an elegance that bears geometric manifestation in the figures of a contra dance, which, like the tunes, can be rendered sans ornamentation for essential effect. In other words, their simplicity does not deprive them of virtue, and in fact contributes to it.
The Montville Project serves a practical, instructive purpose. However, it also stands on its own as a very pleasing compilation of tunes that is simply quite fun to hear.
For more information and ordering:
The CD is also for sale at the Toadstool Bookstore in Peterborough.
Listen to some tunes from the album:
Below: Montville Project Musicians George Fowler (fiddle), Surya Mitchell (piano, shakers), Fred White (guitar, percussion) , Art Bryan (tenor banjo, five-string banjo, mandolin, guitar)